The hot topic in education these days is science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM classes. Both public and private school districts have even dedicated entire campuses where the focus is on the STEM subjects. In addition, short-term coding programs – called coding boot camps – have popped up in cities across the nation that promise to teach students from all walks of life how to code in as little as twelve weeks. These programs not only profess a graduation rate of more than 90-percent, graduates can also expect to earn a six-figure salary with several companies competing to hire them. Sounds like being a coder or getting our kids immersed in a STEM program is the golden ticket to a bright future in terms of employment, right? Not so fast, says billionaire investor Mark Cuban.
In a recent Bloomberg TV interview, Cuban predicted that the next wave of technological innovation will be the “automation of automation” where things like the math and software needed to run computers and machines will be written by the computers and machines themselves. That means that the need for coders, developers, and engineers will decrease, and decrease drastically. In other words, technology will ironically be the cause of the demise of all these great jobs in technology. “There are no manufacturing jobs coming back. There are no coal mining jobs coming back,” Cuban said. He thinks that tech jobs will go the same way when it comes to the evolution of jobs.
For Cuban, high school kids deciding on their college major - and their parents that are footing the bill for the degree - might want to take a second look at liberal arts majors. “What looks like a great job graduating from college today may be not be a great job graduating from college five years or 10 years from now,” said Cuban. “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than for programming majors and maybe even engineering,” Cuban said, while citing degrees in English, philosophy and foreign language degrees in particular.
To get a better idea of what the future of jobs look like in the next 10 years, I talked to Michael Rogers, a New York-based author and futurist speaker. Rogers helps companies and organizations think eight to ten years in the future, based on technology and demographics, to establish a point on the horizon toward which they can navigate as they make decisions.
Mark Fadden (MF): “In your opinion, what does the next 10 years hold in terms of the changes and innovations we will see in job opportunities and employment?”
Michael Rogers (MR): “First, increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, which will probably lead to net unemployment, but also new opportunities in fields such as human-computer collaboration and robot repair.
“We’ll also see a decrease in traditional full-time jobs as more corporations outsource and sub-contract much of their non-core work. That’s a problem in terms of letting young workers plan for the future, but it may also give them more freedom to move between jobs for increased personal satisfaction. It will be important for government and private industry to figure out ways that benefits—such as healthcare, disability and unemployment insurance and retirement accounts—can also become more flexible and portable for both freelancers and frequent job-changers.”
MF: “Technological advances have already brought so many changes to the employment sector with the start of the Industrial Revolution to the continuing Internet Revolution. How do you see technology continuing to change the job front, both in terms of what jobs may change and what jobs may not even need people any longer in the next 10 years?”
MR: “There will certainly be new kinds of jobs—robot repair workers, for example, trained in “mechatronics”, the intersection of mechanical devices and electronics. Or, as full gene scans become part of a regular physical checkup, we’re going to need a new kind of wellness advisor—some blend of genetic counselor, nutritionist and nurse—to help patients minimize long-term health risks.
“Contrary to some predictions, I doubt that we’ll see a significant replacement of truck drivers within 10 years. There will still be too many unpredictable and dangerous human drivers on the road to let driverless vehicle roam free—although there may well be dedicated “smart vehicle” lanes. But within the decade we may see a decrease in warehouse and fast food jobs, because the robotics for those tasks is simpler and less expensive—and have fewer serious impacts if something goes wrong, compared to a speeding big rig.”
MF: “What are your thoughts on the Mark Cuban interview about the coming importance of a liberal arts degree and the “automation of automation?””
MR: “We need to focus on doing what computers won’t be good at doing: communication, open-ended problem solving and collaboration—something very much like a traditional liberal arts education. However, that should be paired with an understanding of the scientific method and logical thinking. That’s why it’s valuable to teach a computer language early in education—not because it will be needed on the job, but because it teaches kids to understand the computers and robots that will be their future co-workers.
“Another demand, I think, will be in the repair and maintenance trades, such as electrical, HVAC, plumbing, factory maintenance, etc. Those jobs involve not only creative problem-solving, but physical dexterity in small spaces—something that’s very expensive to do with robots.”
MF: “People are saying that we are about to embark on a “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” What is it and how will that affect jobs and employment in the next 10 years?”
MR: “This refers generically to the addition of connectivity and intelligence into the manufacturing process—everything from robotics to bioreactors and 3D printing. It means jobs with higher-level skill sets, and the countries with strong educational systems will almost certainly take the lead.”
MF: “What is the biggest challenge that we face in the next 10 years in terms of jobs and employment?”
MR: “How to create full employment as it grows increasingly easy for companies to use AI and robots to replace humans. Bill Gates recently talked about a “robot tax”, which is an idea economists have been kicking around for several years. Some portion of profits created by automation would be recycled to fund jobs that might otherwise not exist. An example: increasingly, young lawyers find themselves underemployed as automation begins to do jobs like legal discovery and contract drafting. Yet at the same time, many US cities have too few public defenders. Might a “tax” on heavily-automated law firms help support new inner city public defender jobs?”