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Could 80 Million Jobs Be Lost by 2027?
Published Friday, April 28, 2017

I am on a mission to scare the complacency out of you. If you think you've lived through a bad economy, you haven't seen anything yet. On the horizon is a technology tsunami poised to destroy millions of jobs. Consider recent advances in artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, driverless vehicles, and virtual reality as the first rumblings of what's to come.

Researchers at Oxford University predict that 47 percent of all jobs in the United States have a high probability of being taken over by technology in the next five to 15 years. Based on that research, the chief economist of the Bank of England predicted in 2015 that the U.S. could lose 80 million jobs.

How can you avoid being one of the 80 million? If you think the answer is about high IQ, advanced degrees, or any other traditional success predictors, you're wrong. The key is learning how to excel at doing the things that technology can't do. We must improve our critical and innovative thinking, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence (EI). We must become more creative, master our egos and emotions, and basically learn how to learn.

My new book along, with co-author Katherine Ludwig, Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age, makes a variety of predictions. Here are a few:

The loss of manufacturing jobs so far is just a warm-up. Over the last 35 years, about 7 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the U.S. due primarily to automation. Seven million lost manufacturing jobs pales in comparison to the likely 80 million job losses due to further technology automation that's on the horizon.

The tech tsunami is like the Industrial Revolution—but worse. Some people say technology will produce lots of new jobs to replace the destroyed jobs just like it did in the Industrial Revolution. This view is too optimistic. First, the human misery in the United Kingdom resulting from the Industrial Revolution lasted 60 to 90 years and that is a long time for society to right itself.

It's unlikely that technology will create enough new jobs that can't be replaced by technology. We are talking about a major societal challenge—the preservation of the American Dream. We are talking about the future of work in the worldwide. And our society is not prepared. If your job doesn't involve higher-order thinking or EI, it's likely going away. That includes service jobs in retail and fast food, manual labor, long-haul trucking, as well as jobs for clerks, security guards, telemarketers, customer service reps, construction workers, and accounting, legal, financial, consulting, and medical professionals. Jobs that require higher-order critical thinking, innovation, and emotional engagement, and skills requiring real-time problem solving and manual dexterity will likely be safe.

Humans are already in a frantic footrace to stay ahead of smart machines. We must prepare ourselves and our families by mastering skills technology can't replace. That is possible through critical thinking, problem-solving, innovative and creative thinking, and emotional intelligence skills. We can learn how to manage our thinking and our emotions and how to excel at working in teams on complicated problems.

We need a serious national discussion about the future of work—how we can quickly prepare our children for this new world, how we can deal with unemployment levels that could exceed those of the Great Depression, and how we define the new American Dream.

This discussion may not happen, or it may happen too late. We as individuals must take charge of our own future now.

About the Authors: Ed Hess is professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business. Katherine Ludwig is his co-author. Their book Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (Berrett-Koehler, 2017), puts forth a concept, NewSmart, designed to help humans thrive alongside technology in the Smart Machine Age. For more information, please visit www.edhltd.com and www.katherineludwig.com.

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