We are witnessing the final years of an industrial revolution in which routine, repeatable work is taken over by machines. And it’s a good thing, because it frees people to regain their talents, creativity, emotions. Paweł Łuksza and Dmitry Sudakov, the authors of the “Atlas of Emerging Jobs”, in conversation with Michał Rolecki
Michał Rolecki: My granny remembers the world without cars, electricity, television, computers, cell phones, or the internet. This unbelievable change took place during a single person’s lifetime. Is its pace still accelerating?
Paweł Łuksza*: It is for sure. It took 50 years to supply electricity to a fourth of Europe’s inhabitants. Popularization of smartphones among one fourth of the world’s inhabitants, or two billion people, took only seven years. The rate of changes in technology is clearly accelerating.
Dmitry Sudakov**: Let me remind you the history of Kodak. For decades, it was a leader in production of cameras and photographic film, but today young people don’t even know the name. On the other hand, starting from 2008, manufacturers of digital cameras have been suffering falls in production due to the popularization of smartphones. This is the pace of the world we now live in.
What was the origin of the Atlas of Emerging Jobs?
PŁ: When we started working on education projects about a decade ago, it turned out that it was a discipline undergoing changes which were obviously related to social and economic phenomena caused by technology. We wanted to study what these changes looked like in different disciplines, and the results of the meetings concerning future skills were compiled in a single publication. People need something like a navigational aid to understand that a whole landscape of completely new professions is looming over the horizon.
DS: Those meetings were taking place in China and other Asian countries, in Brazil and South Africa, where we participated in many professional skill development projects. The first version of the “Atlas” was about one hundred pages thick. It was a description of what we called a “vision of the future” and it contained a list of professions that had been mentioned during our meetings. However, we realized that it might be boring for young readers, so my wife, who is a journalist and a screenwriter, added the element of narration to it.
Whom is your “Atlas” intended for?
PŁ: Both young people and specialists involved in education. The latter group is already aware that the approach to education needs to change: new curricula have to be put in place for schools and universities. The “Atlas” has proven to be a catalyst of change. Since its first publication six years ago, dozens, if not hundreds of meetings have been held based on our publication.
It doesn’t pay to automate the work of unqualified employees (because they are cheap enough) or highly qualified employees (because their tasks are too complex)
Our methodology was developed and described in 2015, and we called it the skills technology foresight. In total, such sessions have been held in 20 countries around the world. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has incorporated our methodology into its guidelines for the future of labor.
Is it complicated to predict the future? What sort of experts are required for this?
DS: First of all, these are forecasts that pertain to individual disciplines. Not the future in general, but, for example, the future of medicine or the automotive industry. We invite the leaders of technology, research and development institutions, education institutions, and representatives from the given industry. They tell us what things are changing in their industry, what can change, and what sort of people they are going to need.
PŁ: ILO’s guidelines talk about the optimal list of participants: they should comprise the more important employers in the given industry, and also small, innovative companies (start-ups), employee organizations (e.g. trade unions), as well as government and education institutions.
We are glad to talk with everyone who has influence on the future of labor and professional skills. We have to exchange our views because both sides need to reach an understanding. Actually, these sessions look like a game about the future, during which the participants are trying to predict what the future will look like. They listen to each other and say, “No, this won’t work” or “We are going to need people like this”, and they reach an understanding. This way, the forecast is a joint work of many people who are trying to agree about what the future is going to be like.
How come you have envisioned so many new professions? The latest version of the “Atlas” features more than three hundred of them.
PŁ: And there could have been several hundred more. Our society is becoming increasingly complex and, in a way, also increasingly comminuted. Several hundred years ago a man was either a peasant, a warrior, or a priest. Today, similarly to women, men can pick and choose from a multitude of social roles and professions associated with them. Professions emerge and disappear. We prefer to talk about “professional roles” or “tasks”, because an old profession is not always replaced by a completely new one. Frequently, this new profession contains elements of the old one. Many new tasks emerge as a result of technological development or social changes; people are also becoming more creative. The “Atlas” contains examples of professions, but it is not an exhaustive list.
With the arrival of industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence we are going to witness a massive gap growing between the countries with intellectual potential and the rest of the world
DS: In our “Future Skills” report we have emphasized the existence of a multitude of professions – from similar and mass ones to unique ones – resulting from the fact that we are in a transition period. The Skolkovo Business School has analyzed approximately ten thousand LinkedIn résumés of people describing their engineering skills. It turned out that engineers share only 10 per cent of skills, and the remaining 90 per cent of skills are different, with only one engineer in one hundred having the same skills as another. In other words, these ten thousand engineers are actually one thousand different professions.
When they graduate, young people choose between a university and a job. Shouldn’t they read your “Atlas” first?
PŁ: Many young people have read it and changed their decision as a result. This was one of our expectations: to help them to change their mind and not start working in jobs that turn into a dead end because too many people do the same thing or because these jobs will be eliminated due to automation.
Should education experts – including those in the ministries of education, science, and labor – and university presidents also read it?
PŁ: But they do read it! Our solution is more like an end-user type, so it can be adapted depending on the reader. We also have solutions for teachers who can hold classes in career counseling.
Right now we are working with World Skills International. It is one of the largest organizations dedicated to professional development, education, and skills, associating 80 countries. It’s a bit like the Olympic movement for education. Together, we hold a series of meetings in 40 countries to discuss different aspects of economy. This way we can include “Atlas” in talks with decision-makers who shape education policies.
Which of those incoming changes will be the biggest?
DS: In the “Atlas” we refer to a certain curve proposed by economist David H. Autor. It shows how during the years 1980-2005 the demand for mid-level employees was dropping in the United States. It doesn’t pay to automate the work of unqualified employees (because they are cheap enough) or highly qualified employees (because their tasks are too complex). This applies equally to call center employees and to lawyers performing routine tasks. Such employees could start working in professions that require greater specialization, but this requires one to understand his or her weaknesses, career counseling, and additional education.
PŁ: And motivation, which can be the biggest challenge.
DS: Yes. Those mid-level employees who won’t find a better job will have to start doing less specialized work, for example as delivery men or cashiers. Even today there are many people working below their qualifications, even among people with academic competencies.
The pandemic will probably accelerate this process.
PŁ: It will surely accelerate the digital transformation, which we have observed after our meetings with representatives of industry and education. They can see that the rate of transformation has sped up. We are witnessing structural changes, and it is not only a matter of increasingly frequent use of artificial intelligence algorithms. It is a broader process that includes approach to telecommuting, distributed organization of work, white-collar work especially. This in turn results in employees more frequently working under flexible contracts and earning less. It is a complex process and other technologies will also contribute to it. There is also blockchain, 3D printing, virtual reality, and obviously robotics, too. All these technologies will create completely new working conditions.
How does it work globally?
DS: It is important to understand the course of this process. Developed countries don’t want to deal with manual labor or production in general anymore, so they have been moving those tasks to other countries. But industry 4.0 enables us to hold multiple production stages in relatively small facilities. We don’t have to move production abroad anymore, and this means relocation (or deglobalization) of production. This can happen in countries that have the appropriate intellectual potential: Europe, USA, maybe Russia, South Africa, or Brazil which have good universities.
In 10 years, software engineers will be gone. They are going to be replaced by automated coding, and it’s going to be a massive change
PŁ: Many countries have benefited from global division of labor. With the arrival of industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence we are going to witness a massive gap growing between the countries with intellectual potential and the rest of the world.
Will similar change take place in developed countries on the social level? You mentioned Autor’s curve. Artificial intelligence is already taking jobs away from lawyers, and algorithms are as good as radiologists…
PŁ: Of course.
DS: Yes, such a change will take place, but we need to remember that this system is very rigid. If you look at Autor’s diagram carefully, you will see that the drop amounts to tenth parts of a per cent over the course of 20-25 years. In 2050 there will still be accountants around, but this work will not be as well paid as it is today. Algorithms will not replace everyone; smaller companies won’t be able to afford process automation.
At Bloomberg and Reuters algorithms have already replaced financial journalists whose work consisted in reviewing financial reports. But if someone is a publicist, he or she can remain a publicist. We also have algorithms that compose jazz, and they can do it 24/7. However, there are still jazz bands, because people want to listen to live music played by humans. The right-hand side of this curve does not account only for engineers, new materials, or robotics, but also human creativity. All those things that cannot be automated.
If we look at employment, we will see that the technological sector is tiny. In 2012, Instagram was employing 13 people and had 50 million users. And this company of thirteen people was sold for one billion dollars. Now, Facebook has fifty people employed there. For purposes of comparison, the largest bank in Russia employs 300,000 people. People will have to find new jobs in the creative sector and industries co-operating with it: in small cafes, hair salons etc.
Does this apply to software engineers as well? Are they going to lose their jobs because of automation and algorithms?
PŁ: Of course, it’s already happening as we speak. World Skills, an international organization we collaborate with, claims that the software engineer’s profession will be gone in 10 years. They are going to be replaced by automated coding, and it’s going to be a tremendous change. On the one hand the coding skills will become more common, while on the other hand coding won’t require as many software engineers as it does today. But they will still be required to supervise automated systems during the creation of complex systems. Only a few, though.
Is that a good thing?
PŁ: Yes, it is. When one and half centuries ago electricity was harnessed, everyone thought that everything would be electrified. And that’s what happened: nearly everything has been. But not everyone is an electrician, right? There are specialists dealing with electricity, but the most important thing is that it enabled completely new activities and the emergence of new technologies. The same thing is happening today. Digital technologies enable a huge number of new things that needn’t be digital themselves. There are no electric surgeons or electric drivers, but neither surgeons nor drivers need to be electricians to use electricity. The same will apply to digitalization. Digital reality is everywhere, just like the power grid infrastructure – invisible, but essential for the future. Meanwhile, software development is going to be intuitive, visual, automated.
As far as production is concerned, the “age of mass uniqueness” is coming
DS: Approximately 15 years ago I worked for a company that optimized internet search results. Then, social media and social marketing came into being. Now, you can do that by yourself, because there are algorithms and tools available for that purpose. Once again, algorithms have taken jobs away from people.
PŁ: And, all in all, it is a good thing. One of the concepts that need to be discussed is the nature of the types of work that disappear due to automation. These are routine, repeatable types of work that do not engage us as people equipped with emotions and creative capacity. After all, when Karel Čapek wrote about a robot, in his play it meant an artificial man, and not a machine. In principle, the whole industrial economy has been changing people into robots for the past centuries.
Before the industrial revolution most people supported themselves with agriculture or craftsmanship. Should we live by our own labor?
PŁ: Please don’t laugh that I’m about to mention Marx, but it will be very pertinent here. He writes about alienation and about the fruits of your labor being taken away from you, about you becoming a cog in a machine. The fruits of your labor do not belong to you. Marx also tells a story about lack of control over one’s own life.
We are likely witnessing the twilight of the age of industry in which we are going to lose our job, especially if our job is routine and repeatable. Those jobs will be taken over by machines. But that is a good thing, because people are going to be liberated and they will be able to work as human beings. They will recover their talent, creativity, and emotions. And these values will become the primary values of economy.
Are we supposed to print everything ourselves on 3D printers?
DS: First of all, someone will have to create the design. And we will still need artists; after all, you cannot print a concert. You can watch it on Netflix, but the experience won’t be the same.
PŁ: 3D printing is a limited technology, but it is going to continue developing. It will enable small manufacturers to regain control over production. Large factories produce the same thing for everyone, while 3D printing will make it possible to go see the local craftsman and have something printed. For example, we will have smartphones; not the regular, mass-produced ones, but unique ones that will have some sort of custom, personal touch in their design. As far as production is concerned, the “age of mass uniqueness” is coming. In this case there’s no point in talking about a specific profession because one craftsman will differ from another, each of them will have a different approach and different recipes, and he will work within the local community. These are completely different relations between labor, market, and consumer. This is decidedly similar to medieval craftsmanship.
DS: But supported by the power of new technologies.
Since we are all going to lose our jobs anyway, what are you planning to be doing in 2035?
PŁ: I am becoming increasingly interested in the natural environment. It could be a job consisting in co-operation with the local community, related to, for example, restoration of natural ecosystems. Russians came to Kamchatka two hundred years ago. Today, all of its inhabitants should learn how to look after the natural environment.
My philosophy is that we can create our own jobs ourselves. When we look at how professions intermingle and combine with one another, we don’t have to wait for the labor market to employ us. We can start shaping our professional roles by ourselves and create a new economy ourselves. We can be the leaders of this change ourselves.
*Paweł Łuksza, Ph.D., is the founder and manager of Global Education Futures, which is intended to be the catalyst of global changes in education systems. He is the co-founder of the Global Change Leaders movement that brings together social and educational innovators. A lecturer at the SKOLKOVO School of Management in Moscow and the Technological University of Buenos Aires where he is engaged in the transformation of university and vocational education. He also works with the Russian Strategic Initiatives Agency which deals in initiating changes in vocational education and technological sectors. He is the co-author of the Rapid Foresight methodology that is used in sectoral and regional planning, and he is the chief author of the Skills Technology Foresight developed in co-operation with the International Labor Organization. He is the chief author of the following publications on the subject of vocational training: “Educational Ecosystems for Societal Transformation“; “Skills of the future“; “Atlas of Emerging Jobs“. From 2014 he has been the Russian representative in the BRICS Skills Development Council (he was its chairman during the years 2015-2016).
**Dmitry Sudakov is the “Atlas of Emerging Jobs” project lead and co-author of the publication. He has participated in numerous international projects, including the development of the Skills Technology Foresight designed in co-operation with the International Labor Organization, development of the strategic roadmap for the BRICS Skills Development Working Group.