/ robots

The Future of Work (and why immigrants taking your job is the least of your worries)

Hey citizens of the Internet, we need to talk. It occurs to me, as of late, that there are a lot of issues in the U.S. and around the world that folks don't understand properly. As a result of this most recent election and the discourse around it, I'm taking some time to fill you in on what you should be afraid of vs what is just a load of crap. Specifically, I'm focusing on the future of work and why kicking out immigrants won't bring back your job (or save you from it being taken).

Why listen to me? Well, you certainly don't have to, but in my last two jobs (currently at System76 and, before that, Mycroft A.I.) I've seen trends that I think are going to trickle down from tech companies to more traditional industries and organizations. From what I've seen I'm convinced I'm 100% right about where the future of work is headed, and I ask you to read on and consider what I have to say.

What's Happening Now

Immigrants are not stealing your jobs. (Especially if you aren't in farm work). There was once a time this was happening more often, but these days I would like to posit that far more jobs are being taken by, say it with me, automation. Even factories that have gone over-seas are seeing a significant number of their manual labor being shifted to robots at a fantastic pace. This is nothing new, from all the way back to Lord Byron declaring that early machinery was stealing jobs in the 19th century. Automation, that is to say machines, are continuing a trend of being able to take on more and more complex tasks.

The other big elephant in the room is globalization. The idea that the marketplace is much larger in every industry than it used to be, and that you are competing against others from all over the world for business. This is great for the average consumer, as you have a variety of fantastic choices when it comes to choosing a product or service, but in order to stay competitive businesses are unable to succeed simply because they are the only game in town. The same concept applies to workers, you must have something (training, talents, or otherwise) that makes you stand out in this grand global marketplace.

What the Future Looks Like

I know folks don't want to accept this, but I really need you to take a moment and think critically about this. You can't stop automation, Lord Byron couldn't and no one has been able to since. Machines do not eat, they do not sleep, and they do not require vacation time (among countless other things). If the trends continue it looks as though smart robots will replace a number of jobs in freight, transportation, and even some roles of administrative assistants. And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Instead of fighting the robots, workers worried about being displaced (that aren't retiring in the next five years) should be learning new skills in their downtime, and making themselves more valuable in a job market where jobs featuring repetitive tasks are likely to be automated. This is happening, and it is going to create a lot of opportunities for those learning the skills to take advantage of the changes.

These robots will need "managers" in some sense, likely not many, but learning skills around electronics and software engineering may be useful for many people looking for a job. Machines mess up and malfunction, that is an opportunity for humans to get to work.

The automatons of the present and future will need people to design them, update them, and build them. Once again, focusing on software and hardware engineering will serve those looking for opportunities in the not-to-distant future. Many jobs will go away, but they will be replaced by different jobs that require different skills. Those poised to fill those jobs will find our future much more forgiving than those that refuse to learn and become victims of technological displacement.

To Sum it Up

Let's stop blaming others for a lack of opportunity, everyday I look out and see a fantastic array of potential business ventures, unfilled positions, and untapped talent. Trying to slow globalization and automation is a fool's errand, but accepting these truths and leveraging them is to walk on a road paved with gold.

Curious about how to prepare yourself for the future? Check out my post on lifelong learning.

Send your comments, praises, and hate mail to me at [email protected] or ping me on Twitter @ryanleesipes.

Ryan Sipes

Ryan Sipes

Community builder, organizer, technologist, open source enthusiast, and all-around rabble rouser. Community Manager for Thunderbird.

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