During the information session at Whittier, the assistant director of admissions pulled up a slide with this statistic: “By 2025, 50% of today’s jobs won’t exist.” Whittier was citing this statistic to make a case for the value of a liberal arts education that prizes critical thinking and creative problem solving, the types of skills that are least likely to become automated as our technology advances. This is something I fiercely agree with, but as a classics major, I’m a little biased. So I decided to dig into it a little more.
The statistic comes from a 2014 report, “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace,” commissioned by CBRE, a commercial real estate and investment firm, and Genesis Rehab services, a China-based healthcare company. And while the statistic makes for a pretty compelling headline, I was heartened to find out that the report’s conclusions were more hopeful. In particular, they point to the fact that, “Losing occupations does not necessarily mean losing jobs – just changing what people do.”
Just as Whittier argued, creativity, interpersonal skills, and the ability to consider problems from a variety of angles will become the most important skills in our shifting economy. And in an ironic twist, the jobs that seem to have the best prospects are the same ones that have long been maligned as “impractical,” jobs like artists, directors, fashion designers, and photographers.
And most optimistic was this point from Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft: “When the world population was a few hundred million people there were hundreds of millions of jobs. Although there have always been unemployed people, when we reached a few billion people there were billions of jobs. There is no shortage of things that need to be done and that will not change.”
But the moral of this story is not to pick one of the professions on that list of top 20 jobs least likely to be automated and aim squarely at that. The lesson is to focus on cultivating complex skills, and be prepared to evolve when necessary. Because the reality is, there is no completely safe career. We can’t predict the way the economy, the environment, or our society will change; we can only invest wholly in the things we do best as humans: imagine, connect, and communicate.