When a young person attends a career seminar, much of his time will be occupied by talk of how artificial intelligence, data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and related technical careers will be the jobs of the future.
This may be, but it does not paint the whole picture. In fact, it is a relatively smallish part of the jobs of tomorrow.
In 1955, General Motors was the biggest company in the world with a revenue of US$9.8 billion (about US$95 billion in 2019’s money), employing 400,000 unionised workers.
In 2019, Alphabet, the parent of Google, generated US$160 billion in revenue with 120,000 workers. With technology, you can do more with less labour, the logic follows. So, if you need fewer people for the same output in the future, why would jobs in a technical field, say data sciences, grow?
One answer is, though Google may not employ hundreds of thousands of data scientists in the future, companies that use Google and other technologies, do.
How many people will be employed by these companies? In the mid-90s, people may have already had an inkling that soon, every company would have to have its own domain, with websites and email. But, instead of creating jobs for millions of web designers and system administrators, companies, especially SMEs, found it cheaper to outsource.
More importantly, people also discovered that the skills needed to maintain an internet presence can be self-taught. Self-publishing also became intuitive and accessible to more people.
People starting a business on a tight budget can buy a domain, publish their own website, and administer their own professional email, all for under RM300 a year. Many small businesses today thrive from social media presence, which costs practically next to nothing.
The job future for the masses is not the highly specialised technical professional, but the worker who can do a bit of everything using technology. If you worked in a big corporation 20 years ago, superior skills in spreadsheets and PowerPoint could help you get ahead. Today, these skills are a matter of course for new recruits – applicable whether you are a biology, economics, psychology, or computer science graduate.
There will be a strong demand in the future for highly specialised, technology-related jobs, such as data scientists, information security specialists and system administrators. But not many companies in the world need to employ 50 data scientists at one time.
The United States’ Bureau of Labour Statistics projected that statisticians would be the fifth fastest-growing job in the country between 2019 and 2029.
However, there will be only about 15,000 additional jobs added in the field, or just 0.2 per cent of the total projected jobs created in 2029. In the computer-related field, systems security analysts will be in great demand, but the projected jobs will only be 0.8 per cent of all American jobs in 2029.
A decade from now, knowing how to simple code, run basic statistical analysis and being able to analyse and present data, would be a commonplace skill set – so common that young people should be able to learn them intuitively because they have had good foundational education.
To create a productive labour force for the future, a nation does not necessarily need to send most of its young people to study data or artificial intelligence at universities.
The basis of the skills needed are developed over a young person’s time in secondary school, in some university courses, and now, can also be attained and sharpened online, for free. And the stronger the educational foundation we place, the broader the skills young people can adapt to in the future.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.