Stop whinging about robots taking your job and develop the skills you need for a new era of work

A report from researchers at Pearson, Nesta and the University of Oxford called The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 claims that while the new era of robots, automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace will be disruptive, it will not spell the end of work and people need to develop new skills to meet its challenges. The study claims to take an entirely new approach to forecasting employment and skill demands in the US and UK. In contrast to many recent headlines, the study finds that many jobs today will still be in demand by 2030 and beyond. However, while jobs may remain, the skills needed for success are changing. The researchers combined diverse human expertise with active machine learning to produce a more nuanced view of future employment trends. Using this innovative approach, the study forecasts that only one in five workers are in occupations that face a high likelihood of decline.

The research even forecasts one in ten people are highly likely to experience a rise in demand for their job. The remaining roughly 70 percent of workers are in jobs where there is greater uncertainty about the future: these workers can boost their prospects if they can invest in the right skills. Rather than “doom and gloom”, the findings show how we can take action to help more people prepare for the future.

Across both the US and the UK, the occupations forecast to most likely experience a rise in employment are associated with education, health care and wider public sector occupations. In the US, however, confidence in the growth of health-care occupations, traditionally defined, is lower than might be expected given the size of the industry and the aging of the population, perhaps reflecting political uncertainties related to US health care policy. Creative, digital, design, and engineering occupations are also found to have bright outlooks in both countries. Decline in employment is forecast to take place in occupations related to transportation and traditional manufacturing.

Knowledge areas such as English language, history, philosophy and administration and management are all generally associated with occupations forecast to see a rise in workforce share. By contrast, STEM-related knowledge areas such as science and technology design will find use only in particular occupations.

Meanwhile, strong social skills will be the key to success as demand for uniquely human skills rises. The skills forecast to be in higher future demand include social perceptiveness, active learning, active listening, judgment, and decision making. In addition, cognitive skills such as fluency of ideas, originality, and oral expression are forecast to increase in demand – whereas physical abilities such as stamina, depth perception, are forecast to decline.

“The future of work is brighter than conventional wisdom suggests–it is not going to be human versus machine, but rather human and machine,” said John Fallon, chief executive officer, Pearson. “It is clear that technology is changing the global economy and labour markets, but we still retain the ability to control our destiny. We must reevaluate the skills people will need for a digital future, and update our education systems to ensure teachers have the right tools to help students succeed in the workforce of tomorrow.”

”While there is no shortage of research assessing the impacts of automation on individual occupations, there is far less that focuses on skills, and even less so that has actionable insights for stakeholders in areas like job redesign and learning priorities. The future of work for most people is not inevitable,” said Hasan Bakhshi, Executive Director, Creative Economy and Data Analytics, Nesta.

“In the face of legitimate concerns about the consequences of technological change on jobs, our study identifies where new opportunities might emerge,” said Michael Osborne, co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment. “We show what the entirely new jobs of the future might look like: these include those accessible to those affected by automation.”

Philippe Schneider, researcher and co-author of the report, said: “Jobs are the cornerstone of our social and economic lives. Today many are concerned that jobs face a period of sustained disruption – not only as a result of automation but also globalization, demographic and environmental change and political uncertainty. Thinking systematically about these trends cannot give conclusive answers on what is around the corner, but it can provide clues and challenge imaginations as we design policies to improve the adaptability and employability of our workforces.”

Many studies agree that occupations with relatively low skills requirements are those most under threat of automation. However, this study finds that some activities like food preparation and hospitality will grow in importance, reflecting wider consumer trends, such as the re-emergence of artisanal employment in occupations like brewing and barbering.

In the US specifically, occupations related to education and teaching, animal care, the legal profession and engineers are likely to see a high rise in demand. These jobs are followed closely by social science professions, personal appearance occupations, counsellors and social workers and entertainment and sports related occupations.

In the UK, occupations related to natural and social sciences, food and hospitality and education and teaching are the most likely to see a rise in demand. Engineering occupations, health and social services jobs, artistic and media occupations and public service jobs will also see an increase in demand.