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How to prepare for a job that doesn’t exist …yet

Updated: May 10

For us adults, it’s a precarious world of work out here. Opportunities are changing and, we’ve heard, mostly in the negative direction. AI has made a promise to do just about everything so we don’t have to. And then we wonder into the night whether we in fact liked doing those things in the first place.

For teenagers right now, who are making plans to get into a world of work, it might be time to start consulting the tarot cards for what job might be sought after in 5 years and still have a decent chance of existing in a decade or two. Though we tend to overpredict the future (silver space suits and hovercrafts) it does seem ambitious to say with any certainty which field of work will still be around in a recognisable form by 2060, way sooner than their current projected retirement age.

Recently I was in a hotel in China and spotted a plastic box on wheels with a printed bowtie. Later that same box got in my way as I tried to get in the lift, but it was busy taking it, alone. The robot shoved past and proceeded down the hallway as we photographed the peculiar event, because that’s what we do right now. Upon finding a human member of staff, they explained it was a sort of courier. It delivered hotel titbits to unassuming guests who might have expected an awkward interaction at their door with a concierge. Instead, they would be giving an awkward reaction to a something that couldn’t reciprocate – though maybe one day it will learn to.

So, the old adage goes, you don’t know what you got til it’s gone. Tech bosses have tried to calm the crowd by claiming AI or technology in general will just replace the boring jobs no one wanted, like hotel concierges apparently, though the limit is clearly undefined. So-called boring jobs like these weren’t ones we wanted, allegedly, but they simply needed doing. However, with so many of these jobs we apparently would rather hand over to robots who don’t complain nor demand minimum wage, or even tips (if you are from the US), we might just realise it was less the employer but the employee who really needed them.

Many stagnated economies have realised the inverse need of jobs – that people require jobs more than jobs require them – and have invested into “job creation”. Just the opposite of AI; get five people working at an empty reception desk. Of course, this isn’t ideal either, but what’s the alternative to mass unemployment? A lot of chat about Universal Basic Income has ensued because of the threat of automation, and it is a worthy answer for how to maintain the base survival of a redundant population.

On the whole, people are adaptable. We are opportunists that seek out ways to live based on what’s around us. Right? Survival of the fittest, or just extinction of the lazy and slow. Always quite an unfair phrase that, especially with my addendum, but it always seemed fine when we looked to be on the fit end.

In most cases, adaptation is borne out of need, or so slow we didn’t even notice it. It is only when one can afford to choose, that we can be driven by interest. The great shame of AI is that it is reducing choice, and so there are fewer prospects out there we can be interested by. Though there might be some argument that there are new opportunities created from a changing world, even the software engineers designing this technology are likely to write themselves out of existence, and they seemed like a good option in a technologically-driven world. I believe this has already started happening in small but significant parts.

A quick Ecosia search, which I do not believe is powered by AI yet, brings up a University of Pennsylvania report with OpenAI that “jobs in agriculture, mining and manufacturing are the least exposed to generative AI” but “jobs in the information processing industries, like IT, are.” This is because AI, being made of tech, naturally finds itself well suited for the role. These projections show an example of where if you can’t beat’em, join’em might not be the ideal logic to follow for a career plan. Turns out, if you want a secure future, look at what the Artificial Intelligences don’t have. Currently, this is a decent set of limbs. Though I’m not entirely convinced by this report as I have also heard of machinery and I’m sure they will join forces soon.

I’m just writing this as a bit of a starter for the topic, as it sounds pretty difficult to predict the future of work in one go, so I’m off to do more research and will report back. For now, don’t lose hope in preparing for your future career. There will be a lot still out there, so my advice for now is to continue picking what interests you as it will likely evolve within that stream rather than disappear entirely. Humans tend to like working, as much as we pretend not to, and economies also rely on this innate perversion, so it’s unlikely we will allow the bulk dropping of entire populations of workers without a fight.

Next up, I’m going to write up more specifics on how to make yourself as “future-proof” as possible in a way that doesn’t just mean going with the flow. Although flexibility is probably quite a good one.

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