The world is changing quickly, in ways we’ve never seen before, and more dramatically than other periods of great change. Don’t get left behind.
This is part of a series on advice to people in school and young professionals.
Jobs Are Disappearing
It’s not because the economy is bad, it’s because the world is entering a major transition period. It’s like when the industrial revolution was beginning, but this change has the potential to be even more radical than that.
From what I understand, this will happen in two phases:
1. Massive shift in jobs, industry and money. Most things will be automated/robotized/3D printed – jobs eliminated completely or outsourced. The western world will hurt, while incomes in poorer countries will rise rapidly. This phase is already well underway.
2. Artificial intelligence becomes equal to human intelligence (singularity). Basically, not only will robots build our cars, but will be smart enough to run our companies, design buildings and everything else a human would do. Some are calling it the end of work.
My puny human brain has a hard time comprehending this and the ramifications for society, so this post will only discuss the first phase, but according to many, this is not far off.
Outsourcing & Globalization
The scientific sounding term for this is “wage equalization.” People in poor countries are now just as educated as we are, and with internet access, they can do your job just as effectively as you can. And just as importantly, they’re hungry (pun intended).
So, if your company can get the job done for $4/hour, why should they continue paying you $20/hour?
Outsourcing to Agencies
A lot of the outsourcing done these days is not to replace you with someone in India, but to hire a consulting agency to replace your whole department. Highly focused small companies with custom software are probably going to do a better job than you would anyway, at a lower cost.
Doing More With Less
During the recession many companies kept their output high while cutting huge numbers of jobs. Employees had to do the jobs of two or more people, and somehow they did it. What’s the incentive for a company to hire another person if the job is getting done, although at a personal cost to the overworked employee?
Technology makes us more efficient. At the airport, you only need 5 ticket agents now, instead of 15, to check people in because people use the kiosks, or simply check in online. This is going to keep happening, in every industry.
The Great Fake Recovery – Proof that Phase 1 is underway.
Job numbers have mostly recovered from the Great Recession, but the numbers are a smoke screen. Yes, the number of people working is nearly what it was before the recession, but most of the people who got back to work are underemployed. They’re doing lower wage jobs than before, part time, or doing the same job at a lower wage with less benefits because of restructuring.
For a unique insight into this story, listen to the last part of Tim Ferriss’ interview with James Altuchur, who is on the board of a temporary work agency and watched this happen first hand. It’s a story we’re not being told, and according to James, the big companies were going to lay everybody off anyway, but the recession gave them a good cover story.
What are the jobs that won’t exist?
This is mostly a guess, but here are some jobs that won’t exist in the US in 20 years, I think:
- McDonald’s cashier – replaced by kiosks
- Graphic design work – I have paid $5 for a great custom logo done by a highly talented guy in Serbia. There’s just no way to justify paying hundreds or thousands to local designers.
- 3D modeling and rendering – architects (I was one) used to spend lots of time rendering realistic images of their buildings, costing the firm thousands of dollars. Now you can get someone in China to do it quickly for a fraction of the cost.
- Coding – software engineers outsourced, with the exception of those at big powerful companies like Apple and Google.
- Factory workers – this is probably more like 50 years, but some people are saying we will no longer produce things in traditional factories because we will 3D print everything.
- Builders (laborers) – also probably more like 50 years, but we’ll 3D print houses and skyscrapers. In the meantime though, we’ll see a huge increase in prefabricated buildings.
- Taxi drivers and truck drivers – cars and trucks will drive themselves.
- The list goes on and on…
What are the jobs that will exist?
- Doctors – some will be replaced with software and nanomedicine over time.
- Road construction workers – unlike buildings, you can’t build a highway in a factory and deliver it to the site.
- Strippers & other sex workers
- Entertainers – actors, musicians, athletes, etc.
- Child care
- Teachers – elementary school, maybe high school?
- Researchers (scientists I think)
- Still a lot more…
EDIT: In the comments, my super smart Aunt Barbara gave me a few jobs that I’ve added to the WILL exist list… but WON’T is way more fun!
These are services that need people in a local area, that just can’t be outsourced to other countries, and physical tasks that software can’t do.
Lastly, are employees/entrepreneurs higher up the value chain.
The Solution – Move Up the Value Chain
If you want to come out on top in this new world economy, you’re going to have to move up the value chain. If your job can be explained as a task or series of tasks, you’re going to be dead in the water, because those can easily be outsourced or automated.
You have to stop thinking about yourself as a laborer or worker. You need to be a commander, at least a mid level manager. I think if you’re not a leader in some way, you’re going to be out of work.
Your role will have to be some combination of a creator, strategist, manager/organizer. You’re going to have to work with ideas, while having others do the work.
Companies can outsource any task, but they can’t outsource thinking, idea creation and strategy, at least not until the robots take over.
If you are in one of those jobs listed above as won’t exist, you can continue to work in that industry, but you’ll have to move up the value chain.
Get Broad Experience and Knowledge
People who can take ideas from a wide range of seemingly unrelated areas and synthesize them into a new product or marketing strategy will be worth their weight in gold. So, if you are interested in lots of different things, like astrophysics, philosophy, art, and travel – just go for it!
Go do those things. Explore your passions – you’re not wasting your time. Even though people might say you’re not developing “employable skills,” you never know where life will take you, and I bet that somewhere down the road, you’ll take inspiration from those early experiences and put them to good use.
If you look at highly successful businesspeople, many of them drew inspiration to do great things from seemingly random places.
Take Control of Your Education
Your education doesn’t end with school, it’s actually just beginning. Your career is largely a function of what (and who) you know, so take responsibility, and don’t let other people dictate how much you know.
Don’t take a job for the money – take it for the education. The most important thing in your career, besides the question of your happiness, is how much you are learning.
If you’ve stopped learning at your job, quit. Get another job where you can learn more.
Read books that interest you, and lots of them. Self-learning is just as good as school, maybe better.
The more you know, the more valuable you’ll be to future employers and the marketplace, and the more you’ll be able to draw from in the future, to come up with that groundbreaking idea.
Be an Entrepreneur
Start a business. If companies are outsourcing whole departments to small nimble companies, why can’t you be the small company?
Start a productized service. I’m going to be creating a resources page for this type of business soon. One example is a podcast editing service – there’s no end to the number of highly focused businesses you can imagine.
EDIT: The new resources page is now LIVE!
Sell physical goods. Sell something, like I’m doing with my drop shipping stores, or create your own product. It’s never been easier.
Don’t Get Caught Unprepared
The world is changing, and we all know it. Don’t listen to the people who are stuck in the old way of thinking. You don’t want to have one of the jobs that won’t exist in the future.
You can make it through and be incredibly successful, but you have to be aware and thoughtful.
What jobs do you think won’t exist in 20 years? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to see your ideas!