Jobs are at risk of automation - Curtin Business School
Source: Curtin Business School

The answer is: quite possibly, so start planning for it.

The relentless march of technology. The rise of robots. The AI doomsday trap. These aren’t slogans for the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate, but news headlines that turn up in search results when you Google future of employment.

The big question is no longer whether robots and artificial intelligence will eventually replace us at work, but how and when it will happen. Debate rages. In 2013, a pair of Oxford academics predicted that 47 percent of American jobs could be lost to automation by 2030[1]. This year, McKinsey Global Institute predicts that 20-25 percent of the US workforce could be looking for alternative employment by 2030[2].

The editorials buzz with familiar plotlines: rapid technological advancement will have a profound, unpredictable effect on the labour market, and those who fail to adapt will fall victim to so-called technological unemployment.

Jobs are at risk of automation - Curtin Business School

Source: Curtin Business School

It’s a tale as old as the industrial revolution, but the 21st century version is a James Cameron-esque sci-fi thriller, because the machines now have the brains to match their brawn. Nineteenth century automation may have changed factory work, but artificial intelligence has the potential to change everything.

Breathe deeply. In the interest of rational thought, a team from PwC and Oxford has just published the findings of an 11-year research project to gauge the prevailing sentiment of the workforce, sketch some possible futures and provide guidance on how to prepare for uncertainty.

Titled Workforce of the future: The competing forces shaping 2030, the report reiterates PwC’s 2017 findings that a significant percentage of jobs are indeed at risk of automation: 38 percent of jobs in the US, 35 percent of jobs in Germany, 30 percent of jobs in the UK and 21 percent of jobs in Japan.

Jobs at risk of automation by 2030 (PwC)

Jobs at risk of automation by 2030 (PwC)

But it’s not a doomsday report. The team has provided a useful roadmap to help workers understand where they stand in 2030 and how to future-proof their careers. At the heart of the report are “the four worlds of work”.

The four worlds of work: where we might be in 2030

The report vividly describes four equally-likely, but markedly different, worlds of work that could play out come 2030:

The Red World, where innovation outpaces regulation and consumers get what they want. It’s an AI-fuelled wild west. Agility is essential, permanency is rare and those with outdated skills will lose out.

The Blue World, where big business gets bigger and social responsibility is an afterthought. Corporate careers are in extremely high demand, to the point where people seek medical enhancements to improve their performance.

The Green World, where big business reigns but social and environmental responsibility are the major drivers. Increased automation will support the green agenda, but at what cost to jobs?

Jobs are at risk of automation - Curtin Business School

Source: Curtin Business School

The Yellow World, where smaller, ethical businesses thrive. ‘Human made’ products will be valued and automation will be supportive, not all-conquering. Workers will band together and won’t lose their jobs to automation without a fight.

The report doesn’t predict the likelihood of one world over another, and most readers will take them for what they are – endpoints on a broad spectrum. Exactly what we’ll end up with is unclear.

So how do we prepare?

Adapt or perish. And stop calling them soft skills!

Regardless of which world eventuates, workers and organisations must be adaptable.

It’s not just about embracing technology – it’s about focusing on the skills that the automatons haven’t quite nailed yet, like leadership, creativity, innovation, imagination and problem-solving. These skills will be in high demand.

Subsequently, we may no longer identify ourselves by means of our job title, but by our skillset. For example, in the future, an accountant may not just do accounting. In the fast-paced Red World, they may be hired to work on a lucrative short-term tech project on the basis of their problem-solving expertise. We’ve called them ‘soft skills’ for too long. It’s time to start calling them skills.

Jobs are at risk of automation - Curtin Business School

Source: Curtin Business School

Your strategy is up to you (but an MBA is a great start)

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably starting to think about how you can take action. Generally speaking, you have two options: double down on a discipline that’s highly specialised and therefore likely to be in high demand, or remain in your current career but broaden your horizons by developing your adaptability and creativity.

Some MBAs allow you the freedom to do either. Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, offers future-focused professionals from around the globe the opportunity to study the 1.5-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) or the two-year MBA (Advanced).

In each, you can choose to focus on one of five available specialisations, some highly focused, some more broad: business administration, digital marketing, innovation and enterprise, leadership, or oil and gas.

Each will give you the skills that a future-focused leader needs to carve a successful career. You’ll learn to navigate volatile, global business environments with innovative and strategic thinking.

Jobs are at risk of automation - Curtin Business School

Source: Curtin Business School

The choice you make depends on the future ‘world’ you think is most likely and your own personal motivations.

Discover Curtin’s MBA programmes and see what your future might hold. In the words of the indefatigable Sarah Connor, “there is no fate but what we make for ourselves”.

[1] Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, The Future of Employment, September 2013

[2] Mckinsey Global Institute, The Future of Work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow, July 2019

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