That’s a bit of an alarmist headline for an article. But it’s one of the big questions being asked by the experts about a great many jobs. They think it’s an important issue. You probably should be asking it yourself.
But maybe you’re thinking that the noise about tech taking people’s work away is just a lot of empty hype. You’ve shrugged off references to the replacement of typewriters by computers, or world chess legend Gary Kasparov getting beat at his own game by a machine back in 1997 (that’s a long time ago, wasn’t it?). It all seems so repetitive. Besides, you still have your job.
Here’s some information that might make you sit up and take notice.
The Future is Here. Ask the Banks.
There’s been fairly rapid adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) by banks in Nigeria in recent times. Technologies like chatbots are allowing them to communicate with customers wherever they are. These chatbots are built to chat like humans; they receive and answer questions on messaging platforms or on websites. That’s a job that humans used to do.
Throw in fintech and the advent of so-called digital banks (which allow you to carry out most banking functions on a mobile app), and the need to visit an actual brick-and-mortar bank is almost totally eliminated. With more outlets accepting debit card payments, it’s only a matter of time before we begin to wonder why we need (human) cashiers at bank desks.
But it’s not just bankers who should be worrying about becoming irrelevant in the next couple of decades. A ‘Future of Jobs’ report put out by the World Economic Forum says that a whole tranche of jobs will have become redundant by 2022– just three years from now. The global body is predicting that data entry clerks, bookkeeping and payroll clerks, as well as financial analysts, may find that they’re in lesser demand over the next few years.
Again, the reasons for these changes are rather obvious. Accounting functions are increasingly being automated; the same goes for data entry. Sophisticated systems which analyze financial trends have been with us for a while already, but they’ll be getting more mainstream over the coming decade. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As you would expect, the alarm bells are already being rung.
Despite Our Fears, We’ll Embrace More Tech
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, warns that the fourth industrial revolution- as our current age of digital tech and robotics is usually called, is going to shake up the labour market.
“There is no doubt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a challenge of displacement, that of technology taking jobs away from people,” he says. “Jobs are going to change, the future of work is going to fundamentally change.”
Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder, has even more grave warnings, especially about Artificial Intelligence. He has harped about the danger that we may be delegating too much power to machines that we’re building ourselves and that it may all come back to haunt us on many fronts.
Still, more sectors adopt these technologies.
We see this back on our own turf, where studies show that company executives and employees alike think that new technology will play an increasing role in the way work gets done, and will disrupt more industries down the road.
The latest of these, the Future of Work Nigeria (published by the Passion Incubator and Union Bank), reports the results of surveys covering almost a thousand correspondents from various business sectors. It shows, among other things, that employees are concerned about what might happen to their jobs as AI and other tech become a greater part of the industrial landscape.
The report suggests that 59% of Nigerian workers think their work will be significantly impacted by AI, automation, and mechanization in the coming years. Eight out of every ten workers believe that AI is either affecting or will affect their work in some way within the next decade.
There’s a perception that jobs in the logistics, manufacturing, and services industries are at a greater risk of being lost to ‘encroaching’ machines. This fear, expressed by Nigerian employees, is borne out at the global level as well, as the World Economic Forum’s own report shows. On the other hand, jobs in IT, digital marketing and alternative energy are seen as ‘the jobs of the future’.
One reason we would want to dare the potential end to our current jobs’ relevance is that technology itself could provide us with new alternatives. We’re literally staking our hopes on these jobs of the future.
What You Can Do
So, we’ve come to the obvious final question: what can we do?
It turns out that there’s a lot we can do in the brave new world of full-on automation and robotics. At least, the experts say so.
First, we’ll have to get better at learning and unlearning skills, and doing so quickly. The reality we are coming into is one in which rapid change is the norm and not just the start of an age. The status quo will be incredibly short attention spans, swiftly passing trends, a mind-boggling array of options to choose from, and an expectation that we’ll get near-perfect service all the time. All of these things will require that workers be able to adapt to very fluid work situations.
There’s also the need to be able to work with several tech tools as well. Again, they’ll very likely evolve faster than they do at the moment, so we’ll have to accept a faster pace of change as the norm and just get on with it.
In a nutshell, you’ll need new skills. The World Economic Forum recommends that you focus on becoming a better analytical thinker, be more creative and original in your approach to your job, pick up some tech design and programming skills, and simply learn to cope with the increasing stress that comes with a quick paced work environment.
Will your job exist in the next ten years? We can’t be certain. But there are things you can control, and acquiring the skills of the future is certainly a good way to keep yourself relevant for whatever could be in the offing.