The Future of Jobs

At the end of the day, will automation take away all our jobs? Let’s take a step back and analyse what this means.

And what this means is that there will eventually be a shift from a menial, task-heavy industry where the workforce is mainly tasked to fill up paperwork and reports into a more research-based industry where the workforce is now focused on innovation and development of not only machines, but also arts and culture.

It doesn’t mean that the old jobs of today will absolutely vanish in the years to come. No. Rather, said jobs will become a novelty where the great truly shines. Think of when the industrial age dawned upon the people of the medieval period. The people were afraid that the coming of the industrial age would mean that tailors and farmers would become jobless because how could they compete with an industry that can produce continuously, tirelessly and autonomously?

Today we know that it is not the case. While it is true that the prominent single tailor companies or even the tailor “factories” as described in Sjsu.edu (2018) are no longer as prevalent in lieu of actual textile factories which use machines to mass produce designs and patterns, one cannot deny that there is a novelty in buying bespoked clothing items handmade by a master tailor. It is such a novelty that people would pay premium to enjoy these luxuries. Think of a Brioni suit or custom-fitted boots from John Lobb.

This reflects the future of jobs. While it is true that menial but common jobs such as cashiers, cooks or even accountants might become automated, it doesn’t mean they would vanish. One can say that due to the now scarce availability of humans in such positions, people would pay premium just to be served by an actual gourmet chef.

Future Proofing Yourself

This thus brings us to the crux of the article. So, how then do we future proof ourselves in an autonomous future?

The way I see it, there are three ways a person can do so. The first method would be to specialize yourself in a profession that focuses on research. Robots and automation can be made to do a lot of things BUT the one thing we cannot make it do is something we do not ourselves already know. A robot cannot be programmed to discover new knowledge because if we know how to do that then said knowledge would have already been known to us the same way how we cannot chart a map to Alpha Centauri unless we already know how ourselves.

Engineering research is itself an important and a key sector to focus in for the future, as all the robots that are going to automate all the jobs need to be researched upon and developed by humans. The fact that jobs like these cannot be automated and the need for faster, more efficient and cheaper robots especially so in an era of automation and robotics would mean that there will always be a place for research engineers.

A different approach for future proofing yourself is by excelling in the craft that you plan to delve in. In an era where goods and craft are highly mass-produced, the space for mediocre craft would be non-existent as whatever amateur craft any Tom, Dick and Harry can make could also be made by factories and machines in a larger quantities, faster rate and at a significantly cheaper price.

However, that doesn’t mean that there is no place for manmade arts and crafts. Taking a leaf from the textile industry, a person can distinct himself from the mass-market competition in terms of unique and specialised designs targeting the market at a higher price point to compensate the time. This would only work if you are highly-skilled and creative in the craft you plan to specialise in, and subsequently successfully market yourself.

This thus brings us to the third approach which is complementary to the previous two and that is inter-personal skill. You can be the best engineer or the best hokkien mee seller in town but if you fail to network, communicate and promote yourself and business, you would only get drowned out by those who are much better in self-promotion than you are.

An interesting case study on this issue would be Malaysia vs Singapore. No one disagrees that Malaysia might have the better street food compared to Singapore, not even the person who wrote the article in AsiaOne (2018) who clearly thought Singapore is superior, but because Singapore is sometimes perceived to be better at promoting themselves in the international stage, in some circles, their food culture outshines that of Malaysia. Similarly, going back to jobs, in addition to having the skills needed to perform and excel at a job, one must also have the skill to speak well, promote and articulate themselves to peers, bosses and clientele.

Conclusion

As a conclusion, it is inescapable that a lot of jobs may become automated in the near future. However, it is not something to fear but rather, to be embraced. To those who are already excellent or believe they would be excellent in the arts and crafts that they are producing, the novelty of their products may very well carry them into a brighter future.

However, for the rest for us, a sure-fire way of future proofing yourself is by having the necessary tools crucial in an autonomous future. Those tools definitely include hard skills such as engineering knowledge, programming as well as soft skills such as inter-personal skills, networking, branding and effective communications.

Quah.