Careers 2020: Preparing To Work In A Technological Age

When we talk about automation, we usually imagine a future without jobs - except for a few nerds perhaps! Therefore, the conversation about this future centres around two things: One, on STEM training, so that more people can join the ranks of the nerds; Two, Universal Basic Income, or suchlike, on the assumption that the rest of the people will need support.

So, if we flip the perspective now, and speak about Careers in the 2020s, how would it sound? Be an Engineer or a Gardener, sounds like the best we could do. But that wouldn't be much of an advice really, because most Engineers today work as number crunchers in Financial Services, jobs that are likely to go first, or Programmers in IT Services, jobs that will go next. As for Gardeners, there is global warming.

But, seriously? Human beings have been pretty bad at predicting what happened to them in the future. True, in an earlier age, we did not have people who called them Futurists (though what they do, speculate, is an ancient profession), but we have made the same mistake again and again. We assumed that the future just happens, and we have taken ourselves out of the frame. We never thought a fellow human being, or a group of them, can shape what happens, and they just did. We make the same mistake now - we speak about a certain idea of technology-enabled future as a predestination - and we take out the human beings, and their capability of making that future, from the picture. 

There goes another possible career, then: The Futurist. They may be darlings of Conference Circuits right now, but the future will, by definition, make them obsolete. And, there is more in this than just wordplay: Because the futurists will not write the future, it is not likely to be kind on them. Most Futurists today are really the lobbyists for the future - they paint a history on auto-pilot and as an assemblage of gadgets and apps - with the hope that once they have made a prediction often enough, it will turn out to be true. However, there is another profession, somewhat quaint but with a better track record, the Historian, and we know that exactly the opposite is true in history: Once you start making predictions about the future with confidence, it invariably becomes false.

The other way of looking at jobs and careers in the future is also equally fatalistic. This is the line of reasoning trying to figure out what the machines can't do so well and then developing skills accordingly. At the outset, this leads to a paradoxical conclusion: Not STEM! Call it whatever name, Geoff Colvin is right that we are looking at 'Relationship Workers' rather than 'Knowledge Workers', and this means the human abilities would be most valued - and, consequently, a humanities education will be more relevant than ever! However, this conclusion also misses the point as it tries to run away, rather than face and shape the future. It may be that we are used to talking about careers within a given economic and technological framework: But this is evidently wrong when we speak about the future, because those economic and technological environments are yet to be shaped.

Then, that's my position on 2020 Careers: An invitation to shape the future! There is another way of looking at monolithic, job-stealing technology: That it offers tools and environments for creating possibilities more democratically. Suddenly, all those creative professions are not sure invitations to poverty: A blogger can be published, an Instagrammer can have a profession, a Facebooker can present a cause, a marketplace business can flourish. The key is to rise above the bleak visions of the paid Futurists, and to imagine the world, after the poor Historian, as a possibility that can be shaped by the little people, if enough of them would bunch together, believe in something together and care for one another. Then, Careers and Technologies don't compete, but come together: The Singularity is won, not for the cause of the machine, but for that of Man. Careers 2020 is about taking control, shaping the conversation and creating the possibilities. 


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