According to the Associated Press, 50% of the 7.5 million jobs that were lost in the United States during the recent great recession were mid-pay, middle class jobs—that is, jobs paying $37,000 to $68,000 a year.
Of the 3.4 million jobs that have been generated since the great recession, only 2% are mid-pay, middle class jobs. Most are low pay. In other words, the middle class jobs did not come back.
So where did all the jobs go? Did they go overseas? Some did. But many simply evaporated due to rapid advances in technology. And more are going to evaporate in the future.
For example, for those who are still employed as a travel agent, an office assistant, a benefits manager, a machine operator, or an assembly line worker, you’re probably heading for unemployment unless you get retraining based on where we’re going, not where we’ve been.
But before you get upset thinking that there will be no jobs for humans to do in the near future, first realize that technology has always eliminated jobs. What we’re experiencing now is nothing new. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, new advancements in everything from textiles to railroads to mail delivery to manufacturing caused jobs to disappear. The difference is that the change used to be slow. It took a long time for those jobs to disappear, so there was time to adapt.
But today, thanks to the three change accelerators of exponential advances in processing power, bandwidth, and storage, we are experiencing rapid change—or rather, transformation. Because processing power is creating a digital explosion in our tools’ ability to do more with less at a faster rate, and bandwidth is increasing exponentially, and storage is moving to the cloud, over the next five short years we will be transforming how we sell, market, communicate, collaborate, innovate, train, and educate. As a result, we are going to see many jobs disappear, yet at the same time, many current job definitions redefined as technology gives us new and more efficient ways to do our old jobs.
Technology does take jobs away. But it is equally important to realize that technology also creates jobs. For example, according to Apple, since 2007 there have been 290,000 new jobs created of people who are working on iPhone apps. Those are 290,000 new jobs that didn’t exist before the first iPhone went on sale and apps were introduced as a way to give smart phones their functionality. And of course, that number of apps for all smartphones is growing rapidly.
We also have people creating mobile websites to work on mobile devices. That didn’t exist before smart phones and tablets. And we didn’t have people building, designing, and equipping large server farms that we all access whenever we use the cloud. These are just a few quick examples of how technology is also a creator of jobs.
The key is to get ahead of the curve. One way to get ahead of the curve is to ask yourself, “Do I do a repetitive task?” Obviously, advanced automation and robotics is going to take those jobs over quickly, if they haven’t already.
Similarly, do you have a well-defined procedure that you do every day, or do you have rule-based skills? Intelligent systems are going to be able to those procedures for you.
Before you panic about your current career, here are a few important questions that will help you get ahead of the career curve. Ask yourself, “What knowledge and skills can I learn that will supplement my current strengths so that I can thrive in the years ahead? What are the new areas of learning that will make me more relevant in a world of rapid change?”
For example, if you know how to write software programs, and the language you know how to use is going out of style, what are the new languages coming into style that you can learn now, before it’s too late? If you are a sales professional, are you learning how to use tablets and sales-support apps to serve your customers better? Ask yourself, “What are the predictable changes, the Hard Trends in my industry, and how will they change my current job definition?”
It’s time to ask new and better questions, because we used to have a lot of time—in some cases, a lifetime—to prepare for job and career changes. Today the timeframe for change is extremely short. So don’t wait until next year, or the year after, or until you’re laid off. Invest the time to identify what you need to learn right away so that you will thrive both now and in the future, either in your current career or a new one.