This is an example of how artificial intelligence (or AI) is transforming our jobs in the 21st century. Last year, the McKinsey Global Institute found that artificial intelligence skills in the workforce grew 190% from 2015 to 2017. In their report, the firm showed that six of the 15 emerging jobs had some connection to AI.¹ With “machines taking over the world” in this way, many of us rightly fear that this trend can create a shortage of jobs in every industry and country around the world. But the reality is different. After some exploration, what we really find is a global shortage of skills², which simultaneously creates the chance for many workers today to benefit from this opportunity — provided that they receive proper training to seize it. However, key stakeholders in society need to invest even more in the training of current workers to get them ready for the future.
Colleges and universities are doing their part to meet the need of re-skilling for the future. I am glad to see this because I have two college-age children at Yale University who are preparing for a future when conditions of work will definitely be fluid, and maybe even uncertain.
The role of technology is key in this crisis of skills. It is not hard to see that today’s cutting-edge skills are just tomorrow’s mainstream requisites⁸(at best) because of the speed of technological development. But this is not the first time we have seen this occurrence. There have been already two mass extinctions of jobs caused by new technologies: in the hundred years that ended in 1970, the percentage of farm workers in the US decreased by 90%; between 1950 and 2010, the percentage of US factory workers decreased by 75%.⁹ So the question is: Will we see soon a new extinction of jobs due to the evolution of technologies like ride-hailing platforms, self-driving cars, and autonomous trucks? After all, “driver” is the most common job in 29 states of the U.S.⁹ If society does not provide these workers with proper opportunities to upgrade their skills, they may indeed become the new insecure precariat⁷ of the 21st century.
This risk also extends to independent workers participating in the so-called “gig economy,” which accounts for almost 160 million people in the U.S. and fifteen major economies in the U.S. This number is almost 20–30% of the total working-age population, although governments statistics tell us that the number of independent workers is only around 11%.¹ Either way, we are talking about huge numbers of workers exposed to the risk of unemployment or underemployment because of a lack of employable skills. And the same situation happens throughout the rest of the world: Colombia and Vietnam report that 25% of their workforce is comprised of independent workers; Didi Chuxing in China employs 13 million drivers; Upwork connects 12 million freelancers to customers⁷; and ManpowerGroup finds jobs for 3.4 million people every year, half of whom are millennials.⁶ Therefore, perhaps the risk that these many workers face shouldn’t surprise us, although there is a genuine question whether new technological platforms create new jobs or if they are just capturing work that already existed offline.⁷
Will technology lead us down the path of a jobless future¹⁰ and a constant war over talent? I suggest that the war over talent is already here, as the process for the selection of Amazon’s second headquarters recently illustrated. As Mayor Sam Liccardo from San Jose, California, said, ignoring the bidding war altogether: “big companies like Amazon want to be where tech talent is.”²
These somber considerations are too important to avoid. But technology shouldn’t necessarily be equated to an evil force, after all. Technology can be used for good or bad — just like in Star Wars, this “force” can be used for good or bad, and we can choose to become Jedi or Sith Masters.¹⁰ The question, then, is how we are thinking about the positive and negative systemic implications affecting a large portion of our working-age population. Maybe we want to see millions of drivers receive training to become the healthcare providers of the future.¹⁰ But, who would re-train this workforce? What will the cost be? And how will we pay the bill? Government and academia are expected players in this, but maybe the private sector can find an incentive to participate in this process. For example, whether drivers will share the upside of the coming Lyft or Uber IPO processes is an open question. Regardless, we would collectively need to consider how to transform these taxi and truck drivers into a new type of entrepreneurs, who are able to navigate the uncertainties of the future of work (many ride-hailing drivers already manifest an entrepreneurial spirit by multi-homing¹¹ across different platforms and taking risks to optimize their outcomes).
In the future of work, a future when my own children will compete, learnability will determine their employability.⁶ Teaching innovation and entrepreneurship will be crucial for success. We will need to teach, however, a different kind of entrepreneurship that moves away from the behavior of badly reputed, hubris-filled entrepreneurs who dominate many headlines today.⁴ We need to move away from their zero-sum mentality⁴ and approach value generation and capture activities in a different way. We need more collaborative entrepreneurs who can think systemically. And this is why I am so excited to be a part of a team of mentors at Tsai CITY with fire in their belly for the education of the leaders of the future at Yale, through experimentation, re-skilling, and teaching emotional intelligence.
a playground-type, cutting-edge physical space for innovation
- Bughin, J. and J. Mischke. (2016, December 02). Don’t believe everything you hear about the gig economy. Some myths debunked. Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/12/dont-believe-everything-you-hear-about-the-gig-economy-some-myths-debunked
- Kasriel, S. (2017, December 05). 4 predictions for the future of work. Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/12/predictions-for-freelance-work-education
- Jahanian, F. (2018, January 17). 4 ways universities are driving innovation. Retrieved from: www. weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/4-ways-universities-are-driving-innovation
- Dodgson, M. and D. Gann. (2018, October 18). These are the four traits of successful entrepreneurs.
Retrieved from: www. weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/these-are-the-four-traits-of-successful-entrepreneurs
- Prising, J. (2016, September 07). 5 career tips from a CEO to his millennial children. Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/ceo-career-tips-for-millennials
- Zahidi, S. (2016, June 28). The gig economy is changing the way we work. Now regulation must catch up.
Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/gig-economy-changing-work
- Mphuthing, P. (2019, January 25). Future of work: 5 top insights from Davos experts.
Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/future-of-work-tk-top-trends-from-davos
- Pring, B. (2019, January 10). Why humans will remain central to the future of work. Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/why-humans-will-remain-central-to-the-future-of-workFuture of work
- Lee, David. (2017, October 22). Why jobs of the future won’t feel like work. Retrieved from: www.ted2srt.org/talks/david_lee_why_jobs_of_the_future_won_t_feel_like_work
- Gray, A. (2016, January 26). 11 experts at Davos on the future of work. Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/11-experts-at-davos-on-the-future-of-work
- Knowledge@Wharton. (2019, January 07). What motivates workers in the gig economy?
Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/what-motivates-workers-in-the-gig-economy
- Torkington, S. (2016, September 02). The jobs of the future — and two skills you need to get them.
Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/jobs-of-future-and-skills-you-need
- Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Retrieved from: www.rulerapproach.org/about-us
- Zaimova, R. (2015, October 29). 3 reasons why you need a mentor. Retrieved from: www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/10/3-reasons-why-you-need-a-mentor