The Future of Work: Skynet or Jobs – Is it that Simple?

If you listen to the media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the robot in this picture is the face for the future of work.

The reality is that, while there’s no doubt that jobs are being impacted by technology, this is nothing new.

Despite dooms day predictions, the industrial revolution of the 18th century did not result in widespread unemployment. Instead there was a period of adjustment followed by huge economic activity and growth as countries benefitted from the efficiencies that steam power and industrial machinery brought.

Why, then, are we imagining that this next revolution – the technology revolution – will decimate jobs?  

All previous evidence show us that it won’t and certainly when you look at the jobs that are growing, you can’t help but wonder why people think it will.

There is a Premium on Empathy

The jobs growing in demand are those that require skills that machines simply cannot (at least for any time in the foreseeable future) deliver. Those skills fall into the group we call “empathetic” skills – the ability to understand humans.  

Imagine, for a second, your child in care during the day. She falls over and scrapes her knee. Can a robot take her hand, kneel down, look her in the eye, touch her comfortingly, create a connection, say “there, there” and comfort her with a warm smile or cuddle? Would you even want a robot to do that?

What about a parent in an aged care home? Do you want caring, friendly and warm people who can intuitively understand your parent’s down-day and offer them a cup of tea and a caring chat – or a robot?

What about your new home? When you’re planning your new garden, how do you get across to a robot how you want the garden to feel? How can it know how to reflect something really unique about you and the ambience you want to create?

Robots Can Do but Humans Can Feel

Jobs that require empathetic skills are a long way from being automated. So are those that require critical and creative thinking. Whether it’s

  • Designing an ad campaign to reach the emotions of your target audience
  • Brainstorming a new business service or strategy
  • Planning infrastructure that takes into consideration human patterns of behaviour
  • Researching those patterns of behaviour and understanding the idiosyncracies behind what we do that aren’t obvious
  • Helping people make emotional decisions
  • Serving people through community services
  • Helping people with their (very personal) finances

The list could go on and on… All of these jobs require human skills. If you need a payment automated or a floor cleaned – a robot is perfect. But if you need someone to understand a volatile situation, to use their gut, and to feel… You need a human.

The Future of Work Has Already Arrived

Even jobs in hospitality such as checking in a guest to a hotel, or ordering a meal in a restaurant, are currently jobs that could be done by a robot – but do you want them to be?  At the moment it’s possible to walk into McDonald’s and buy a burger with a few taps of a button. While that suits that model, would you like or even expect the same service at a hatted French restaurant? Where’s the business advantage in going down that road?

The hospitality industry is built on customer service and relationships. Five star hotels train people to make their guests feel welcome, valued and nurtured – and compete with each other on that basis. Self-check in at hotels can be done, even now, so why isn’t it everywhere? Because they know their customers want “people” experiences.

All You Need Is Love

In a lot of the discussions around the future of work, we’re forgetting this very simple principle which is summed up best in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After our physiological (food, air, shelter) and safety needs, people’s biggest driver is love and belonging. And we’re a long way from robots solving that. 

So, in the discussion about the future of work, we need to remember that, while technology can do some of the jobs of the future, there are many they can’t. There are many more that we won’t want them to, even if one day they are physically able to. We need to remember the human in these discussions and that we are, certainly for now, still in control.

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