The other day we were traveling with our sons and stopped in a hotel. To occupy our children for a few minutes while we packed things up for the next leg of our journey we turned on the television. It was then that I truly realized the extent of things our kids will never experience. Those things will have significant impact on the future of work.
Can you Rewind Channel 3?
As my son watched Daniel Tiger, or some other children television show a commercial came on. My sons’ first question was what this interruption to his show was. The second question was could we fast forward through it. When he went to take a bathroom break he further gave me a chuckle by asking if we could pause the show. You see, at home we have Netflix. Other than rare travel our son has never experienced live television.
This all got me thinking, what else had I grown up with that our kids will never experience. It goes without saying he will never experience the 10 inch black and white TV I had in my room in my teens. It’s doubtful given the change to digital that relic, if it were still working, would even be able to receive a signal. But what about beyond the world of television?
Call up John, without video? Never!
It is very common that myself and my family end up in different states and even continents. This is the cost of a job that requires me to travel around the world. But that means something completely different these days then it did even a decade ago. Today my son can be on the drive to school and my wife just fires up Skype on her phone. Instantly he is video conferencing with me in Shanghai on the way to school.
In fact he gets upset if we just call rather than Skype. Conversely just fifteen years ago I had a job interview over video conference. The lag drove me nuts and probably cost me the opportunity. Around the same time I had an IP phone for international calls. It was absolutely useless. These days my Republic Wireless phone operates on Wi-Fi most of the time. I can barely tell when it’s on Wi-Fi versus a cell network.
To Europe for Breakfast, Sure!
As indicated earlier I travel a lot for work. We also travel a decent amount for fun. My kids are 5 and 3. They’ve already done more travel then I did before I was 20. Air travel has never been cheaper or more common. The ability to fly to Europe overnight for $300 a person means we do not think twice about the whole family tagging along for a business trip. I can not imagine being so casual about International Travel when I was a kid.
Information at your finger tips
The biggest change though has been in the world of data. It’s possible, especially with today’s cell phones, to answer a question with a simple google query almost anywhere. Information is almost instantaneous. Not only that, it is available from reputable sources. I can remember even in high school quoting of internet sources was not allowed for a paper due to the lack of reliable sources. These days if you can avoid fake news you can find all sorts of real, reliable sources of information if you know where to look.
Change has always been
All of these things mean my kids will grow up in a different world then I did. A world where data, video, and information are constantly at our fingertips. A world that is increasingly interconnected. My kids will experience things I could never have imagined as a kid, and will never experience some of the things I did. But you know what, the same could be said about myself to my parents or grandparents. My grandmother’s first job was as a phone operator. This job does not exist these days. When my parents were kids almost no one had a television in their household and the computer like the one I write on now was a distant dream.
Similar to my sons take, I remember learning to type in high school on an electronic typewriter and thinking my school needed to invest in better technology. In many ways my take on their generation was the same as my sons on mine.
The Robots are Coming
These days all anyone talks about is the coming of automation. Robots that will displace people and cause them their jobs. Like something out of the Jetsons, the image is everyone from the person to cleans your home to the individual serving your food will be unemployed. They will be replaced with a robot. It’s a scary proposition, and in some case it will be true. Some careers will be replaced by robots. But certain things become clear as we look over the changes.
- They are rarely predictable. If they were we’d all be driving in flying cars by now. There is no way to predict what comes next.
- They are extremely disruptive to those who do not prepare for them. The only thing data from the past tells us is the future will be painful to those who are unwilling or unable to adapt to the changes.
As such really the only thing you can do to prepare for upcoming automation and associated disruptions in the workforce is to be adaptable. Learn skills that can be applied in multiple areas and always be learning in case something you already know becomes obsolete. That being said, there are also some changes that are already present that you should already be adapting towards.
Your Competition is International
As a result of the changes in communications and travel the world has never before been more internationally focused. In business you are just as likely to interact with people next door as across the world. As such, if you have the opportunity, learn about other cultures and languages as often as possible. They will be a true benefit to you in your career going forward, as the road ahead will require you to more and more work with your counterparts around the globe.
Digital is a Viable Career Path
The other major change that is currently permeating through society is the push to go digital and online. 17 years ago we had the dot-com boom where people expected the internet to completely change the economy. Well they were right, but off by a few decades. These days you can do just about anything and everything online. Furthermore, in some cases you have to do it online. In fact there are whole career paths that are online only, like running a blog. 😉 Realizing this big movement and it is beginning to impact existing careers. It is now becoming a minimum requirement to understand the web. Thankfully many of our kids are born into this knowledge due to society, but if you do not have that benefit then I recommend you learn as soon as possible.
Freelance and Consulting are More Possible then Ever
As a consequence of the rise of the digital world we are also seeing a change in the nature of work. When I was a kid you either started a business or worked for a company. There did not seem to be any in between. These days freelance and consulting are becoming common place. How common place? Forbes recently reported that a full 35% of the US workplace now freelances in some capacity.
The hurdles to work in self employment have never been lower. You no longer need to invest thousands to get a business off the ground. In some cases you can do it for almost zero. Don’t discount the possibilities this presents to you, either as a supplement to your regular employment or as a stand alone opportunity.
But also do not discount the threat this exposes to you. We always hear about how robots will take your job. I hate to break it to you but long before that happens Johnny Freelancer might just do it. As this employment model takes further hold there will be a shift in the economy to more jobs of this nature. This could very well make the traditional corporate or company man job harder to achieve. It would be in your best interest to at least stick your toes in and understand how this world works.
Change is Constant, Change is Disruptive, Prepare for Change and you will Benefit
Ultimately everything we are talking about here comes down to 3 points.
- Change is constant. It always has been, it always will be. It is unavoidable.
- Change is disruptive. Go back and read all the books by Charles Dickens and see how well the existing workforce did during the industrial revolution. Old jobs become obsolete and new ones profitable.
- Prepare for adaption to the change. Realize things are not hopeless. In every case where things majorly changed, new opportunities presented themselves. There is no reason to expect this time is different. Those who do not adapt are hosed. Place yourself and your children in the position to adapt.
What other things have you experienced that your kids will never experience? How are you preparing for future changes financially and in your career?