About 10 years ago there was a popular theory floating around that the world had hit peak oil production. According to the logic, we had discovered all the oil that was discoverable, and due to the demographics of the Third World rapidly industrializing, oil prices had nowhere to go but up – forever
But that’s not the way that things went. Although demand has grown steadily, oil prices have actually dropped by 10% over the last five years. Turns out that high oil prices spurred not only new innovation in the oil production process, but new motivation to find additional sources as well.
Today the talk is of the Western world hitting peak jobs. In other words, due to a wide degree of factors such as robotization and the commoditization caused by technology, we will never have as many quality jobs as we’ve got today.
Note that I didn’t say that our standard of living was going south. One of technology’s greatest benefits is the improvement of living standards it brings to those who use it. But the number and availability of high-quality jobs will from here on start to slide according to a number of sources such as here, here and here.
So what’s going on and what does it mean for our future generations?
Employment earnings figures coming out of the U.S. show a trend towards experts continuing to make good money, but they also show a hollowing out of middle class incomes as a whole. Increasingly, service-based jobs are replacing lifelong careers due to greater growing technological implementation within the workforce. This is only going to increase because of increasing numbers of people that are using and adopting technology.
So what’s a guy to do? It goes without saying that not only is that minimum wage flipping burgers job is not going to be any more fun in the future – nor is it going to provide you a great retirement . But if you are considering some retraining or know someone who is in the early stages of planning a career, here are some thoughts on what you want to be looking for:
- Avoid the jobs that are labor based exclusively. We used to think that labor and service based jobs were safe from the threat of outsourcing. That’s probably largely still the case, but looking 20 years ahead I’d say that this will be increasingly hard to agree with.
Example: Companies are always looking to cut costs. With technologies such as the driverless car actually being okayed into law (such as they are now in California), everyone from cab drivers to truckers are potentially at risk.
As a rule, employment which relies exclusively on ‘hands on’ today will not always be that way thanks to the gradual robotization of society over the next 20 years.
So does that mean that we should all become ‘knowledge workers’ and learn the nuances of C# and no sql? That’s not entirely wise either. As another 2 billion people come on line from the Third World over the next decade with the help of high-speed wireless Internet, $35 tablet computers and free world-class education, we are sure to see a large chunk of the traditional IT industry migrate offshore just like our manufacturing base did in the 80s and 90s.
Today, unless it’s a highly specialized manufacturing process run by a large corporate entity, or perhaps a weeny niche player seeking out an existence, it’s almost impossible for a western-based manufacturer to compete against the likes of China. With little barrier to entry, it’s almost impossible to see the IT industry end up anywhere other than overseas in the long run.
So just what is safe? While this is obviously a moving target, moving forward with a strategy that encompasses certification of the latest techno-technological standards for today’s industry along with a healthy dose of re-education from the world’s best universities would seem to be a sound strategy.
It makes sense because as companies adopt technology they are obligated to hire qualified workers to run those machines. And by upgrading your knowledge continuously through free courses available in Coursera, Udacity and edX we are able to stay relevant to our employers or start our own enterprises.
If we haven’t seen peak jobs yet, I’m guessing we will soon. So, plan for it just like you would your finances.
E.O. & E.