If you were a horse living in 1224 during the time of Genghis Khan, you were a highly useful creature. Your owners rode you into raids, galloped you down the steppes, and trotted you around their yurts during night patrols.
You were assured of food, water, shelter, grooming, and the appreciation of a human whose warm bum heated your back on a daily basis. As time wore on, your job scope would expand to include drawing carriages in the Victorian era and pulling ploughs in various farms around the world. You helped people travel to places, carry and deliver things, and even pay for things as legal tender. You never had to worry about being out of a job.
Until about 1875.
That year, in Michigan, USA, a 12-year old boy witnessed the first road engine driving past his father’s farm. He was awestruck. 17 years later, he would build his first motor car and go on to invent the world’s first motor assembly line. His name was Henry Ford, and he was mass-producing these black, heavy iron carriages that drank oil and gasoline instead of water and carrots—and these carriages didn’t need you to pull them. They were still pretty expensive at first so you didn’t worry too much about the future of your job.
Fast forward to today, and almost nobody rides horses anymore. There are children who have grown up never seeing a horse up-close. You have been relegated to equestrian tournaments, faraway farms, and storybooks.
Virtualization and automation
Humans and tech have always had a tenuous relationship. Whenever tech appears, humans somewhere lose their jobs and livelihoods. This leads to resentment, dissent, and sometimes revolt—but you can’t stop technological innovation, only delay it for a bit. Over the decades we’ve virtualized everything: there are now virtual cities, virtual characters and avatars, virtual communities, virtual influencers, and now, thanks to COVID-19, virtual meetings, concerts, and conferences. Where human workers were once a dime a dozen, tech has now taken over.
In other words, humanity is becoming rarer.
As more of our world becomes virtualized and automated, human skills are in greater demand. Everything that a machine can do better will undoubtedly be automated away—but the list of skills that the most in-demand jobs of the future will require all need a human touch. Here’s the full list of required skills:
- Critical thinking
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
- People management
- Emotional intelligence
- Complex problem-solving
- Teamwork and coordination
- Judgement and decision-making
In short, the fastest-growing jobs need someone who can work with humans, or work with tech and data to make life easier, cheaper, and better for humans. Right now you’re a horse staring at the writing on the wall. If you don’t upskill yourself, you’ll soon be out of a job.
One of the core roles of a copywriter and social media manager is writing posts for different channels. Last month, I discovered a tool that essentially generates endless variations of copy based on a simple product description. You feed it a product name (e.g. “Lovely Farms”) and a description (“We sell fresh produce from farm to table for customers in the Gaborone area”) and it generates pages and pages of content you can use for ads, social media posts, and product packaging.
It was eye-opening. There I was, being shown with every click how redundant that aspect of my job was about to be. It was funny and depressing at the same time.
But I know how to read the writing on the wall. I promptly signed up for the service and got in touch with the founders to discuss how to make it better. The tool makes my job faster and easier, and I can now focus on other aspects of my role that deliver greater value for my clients.
I’m one of the lucky ones—I can pivot easily. Years ago, my father (who is reading this) showed me a similar list of in-demand degrees. Computer Science was at the top of that list, and it, still, is.
I have a BSc. in Computer Science and a PhD. in Informatics, which translates to an aptitude in tech and data (the “new oil”). Three of the top ten in-demand jobs have to do with tech and data. I’ve been rediscovering my love for coding over the last few weeks (via Codecademy) and building up my skills in an area that is hot on the job market (content marketing and information architecture). With my background in coding, marketing, content, creative communications, and academia, I hit at least six or seven of the ten future skills requirements. I’m sorted.
What to do
For those of you working in roles that can and soon will be automated, you have a few choices:
- You can double down and become a specialist in your field and ride out the wave while you can. For example, nobody gets their watches fixed anymore; but the kind of person who needs a watch fixed is usually willing to pay top dollar for it.
- You can apply your current skills to a different field where there’s greater earning potential. A school teacher has several critical skills: empathy, people management, creativity, emotional intelligence, and more. The world will always need teachers—so why not teach corporates instead? Find a skill that’s in-demand in the workplace and learn what it takes to offer such training. They pay much more, and you don’t have to mark homework.
- You can learn a new skill altogether. If you have the aptitude for it, learn to code or analyze data—you’ll never be out of a job. Writing and organizing information as a content strategist is another highly flexible career path. Beyond that, pick up a vocational trade. Electricians, mechanics, plumbers, fitters and turners, painters, and other professionals who use their hands will never go hungry.
- Invest in businesses or systems that incorporate one or more of the above. Start a coding school and hire instructors to teach young students, whom you then place in big companies and take a cut of their salaries. Or pull together your unemployed relatives and start a services company: plumbers, mechanics, painters, etc. Handle the marketing and sales (you can automate much of this) while they handle the work, and pay them a cut while you keep the rest. You don’t need to know how to do the work if you’re good at managing people.
The job market is changing and software is eating the world. Be the chef, not the meal.
Till next week,
In my last post, I touched on clarity — how you can neutralize your fear of failure, rejection, and abandonment by simply asking clarifying questions. Read it:
If you need a consultation around your brand, career, or project, get in touch.
Mohammed Shehu, Ph.D. writes on marketing, content, and tech for fast-growing B2B clients. You can find him online @shehuphd everywhere.