Last semester, I walked into my Intro to Management class to find my students looking exhausted. Some had their heads on their desks, others looked bleary-eyed, and some were yawning. It was 11 a.m. and I hadn’t even begun class, so I thought, what is going on? Why is everyone so tired?
I decided to ask them just that, and their responses were overwhelmingly consistent: they weren’t sleeping because they were worried about their futures—about what job they would get, if they would even get one, and how to find the best career for the future, one that will keep them employed for the next 40 or more years.
Job Insecurity in the Age of Automation
There are a lot of things that make my students unique, but their job insecurity is not one of them. In fact, according to a Cowen Washington Research Group survey, 52 million workers suffer from job insecurity, and a Brookings Institute Report shows that 37% of workers are worried about losing their jobs specifically because of the impending age of automation. But while the threat of automation to jobs is real, it’s not what people tend to imagine.
No Profession is Immune from AI and Automation
Many people believe that only blue-collar jobs are being threatened by the rise of automation, because they think about robots working alongside human workers in Amazon warehouses, autonomous shuttles running loops around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, or even the ATM machine.
What is less spoken about, and therefore less understood, is the fact that artificial intelligence (AI) is also making its way into white-collar fields of work. Take, for example, law.
Lawyers have always been the epitome of white-collar work, and yet, AI is now advanced enough to conduct research and create contracts – typical work skills of those practicing law. Likewise, journalism now utilizes natural language generation software systems to create stories. Even a medical diagnosis may be handled by AI.
As machines become more advanced and the emphasis is placed on machine learning and algorithm creation, we face a reality where machines out-perform humans in many common work skills.
What Work Skills Will be Relevant in the Age of Automation?
The question then becomes, how do we stay relevant during the age of automation? How can we ensure that our work skills can never be replaced, and that we adapt with the changing needs and demands of our respective industry, rather than get booted out of it?
The answer may lie in what Dr. Aoun, the President of Northeastern University, calls humanics and the notion of hybrid jobs. Let’s break these terms and ideas down.
What is Humanics?
Humanics is defined as the study of human nature or human affairs, but according to Dr. Aoun, it is also a skill set that includes three essential literacies, namely, technical, data, and human literacies.
Technical literacy is the ability to understand how machines function on the back end. Anyone can use an app that’s designed to be user-friendly, but those with a competitive edge in the evolving workforce know what’s going on behind the scene to make that app work.
Data literacy, on the other hand, is the ability to manage, analyze, and synthesize data so that it can be used to achieve goals, make decisions, and advance.
Finally, there is human literacy—the most underrated skill of all, because it is exactly what sets us apart from machines.
Human literacy is the ability to empathize, communicate, and engage with other people on profound and genuine levels. It is a form of emotional intelligence that allows us to act ethically—something that AI will never be able to do like humans. And whether we are aware of it or not, we want the interactions that result from human literacy.
That desire for human understanding and interaction will never go away. But, at this point, neither will automation. That’s why the three literacies that Dr. Aoun discusses are so important, because they are all necessary for the modern worker to possess, and they intersect in every field of work.
Three Cognitive Abilities Are Also Key
What’s equally important as the aforementioned literacies, are three associated cognitive abilities: creativity, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship.
Dr. Aoun and others—including Burning Glass Technologies, a company providing real-time data on job growth, in-demand skills, and market trends—claim that these three cognitive abilities are essential to maintaining career relevance in the age of automation.
Creativity is listed as LinkedIn’s most sought-after skill, and is the driving force behind innovation, adaptability, and solutions to all kinds of problems.
Critical thinking allows people to see the small details at the same time as the big picture, so that one can make decisions, apply solutions, and make progress.
Entrepreneurship, of course, is always needed and is responsible for the creation of new jobs, companies, concepts, and more.
What is a Hybrid Job?
When we combine the three literacies composed in humanics (technical, data, and human literacies) with the cognitive abilities (creativity, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship), we are then able to fulfill what’s known as a hybrid job.
A hybrid job is one that is complex and interdisciplinary, requiring a combination of skill sets across various areas. And workers for these jobs are in high demand, a demand that will likely increase.
Let’s go back to that journalism example from earlier. Sure, AI may be able to utilize natural language generation software to tell us that uncontrollable wildfires are burning California. But can AI interview a grieving family who lost their home or a loved one, and portray the pain they face? Analyze the different methods available to help battle the fires? Compare the statistics of historical wildfires in the region to give insight into what’s happening today? No. It can’t. Not like a human can.
A journalist who can do all that, plus operate their newspaper’s online hosting site to publish their own posts, and brainstorm different ideas for creative stories, is a person who would not be replaced by automation. A journalist who fits that description will also command a much higher salary than someone who only possesses good writing skills.
The Best Careers for the Future are Hybrid Jobs
Burning Glass Technologies calls these hybrid jobs “the secret of career success in the digital world ahead.” People who wield the necessary skill sets to fulfill hybrid jobs will find themselves in great positions as the age of automation continues to evolve.
So what I suggested to my students that morning, and what I continue to suggest to anyone else who is suffering from job insecurity, is to develop your technical, data, and human literacies as well as your creativity, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship skills in any way that you can.
And while you do that, seek out complex, hybrid jobs that will inherently maintain your career relevance in the digital age. If you do, you’ll find that no machine can take your job.
To learn more about how NJIT can help you develop the work skills of the future, visit https://www.njii.com/human-capital/.