As we peer into the trajectory of human jobs over the next century, we find ourselves perched on the edge of a future that is as exhilarating as it is uncertain. With an altruistic eye, let’s chart the course of work as informed by ongoing research and technological advancements.
To start, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are already leaving indelible marks on the world of work. According to a widely referenced study by the McKinsey Global Institute, as many as 800 million jobs could be automated by 20301. But rather than a cause for fear, this development could be an opportunity for growth and adaptation.
While it is true that some roles will likely be phased out, new ones will emerge. As a study published in “Nature” points out, while technological advancements throughout history have disrupted the job market, they have also consistently led to the creation of new jobs2. For instance, the rise of the Internet saw a significant reduction in jobs related to traditional media, but it also resulted in the creation of new roles in digital marketing, cybersecurity, and web development.
This cyclical pattern of destruction and creation is what makes predicting the future of jobs a challenge. However, it also opens a vista of opportunities. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report suggests that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced due to automation, but 97 million new roles, more adapted to the division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms, may emerge3.
There’s also a growing consensus that soft skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence, will gain prominence. An extensive report by the Institute for the Future identified these, among others, as essential skills for the 21st-century workforce4. As AI and automation handle more routine tasks, humans will likely find their roles shifting towards tasks that require uniquely human qualities, like empathy, judgement, and innovation.
To prepare for this future, a focus on lifelong learning and skill adaptation is crucial. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research underscores the growing need for policies and practices that encourage continuous learning and skill development5.
But there’s more to this future than just skills and roles. Technology has the potential to shape not just what we do but how we work. The COVID-19 pandemic has already shown us a glimpse of this future, with remote and flexible working becoming the new norm for many. The resultant effects on work-life balance, employee wellbeing, and overall quality of life are aspects that merit deeper exploration.
As we march into the future, we should ensure that our approach to work and jobs reflects not just technological capability but also our shared values as a society. Technological progress, after all, should serve to uplift human potential and not diminish it. As technology geniuses, we must keep in mind the importance of the human element in the future of work.
In the end, the trajectory of human jobs over the next century will not just be a story of technological disruption, but also one of human resilience, adaptation, and growth.
- McKinsey Global Institute. (2017). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. Link ↩
- Bessen, J. E. (2019). AI and Jobs: The Role of Demand. NBER Working Paper No. 24235. Link ↩
- World Economic Forum. (2020). The Future of Jobs Report 2020. Link ↩
- Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute. (2011). Future Work Skills 2020. Link ↩
- Deming, D. J. (2017). The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 132(4), 1593–1640. Link ↩