Before the industrial revolution in the 18th - 19th centuries, people were afraid of the changes that were clearly coming. They were afraid of loosing their jobs, of being forced to change their professions, to learn new skills, to adapt to different types of workplaces and so on and so forth.

Today we are facing roughly the same issues as the ones mentioned above. People are afraid of how technology and automation will impact their lives, their working habits, their skills etc. They are afraid that with automation of repetitive tasks and not only, many jobs will disappear and many skill sets will loose their value. And the questions on everyone’s minds are: How will we manage to cope with the impact technology brings? How will we adapt? How will we be able to learn new skills, many of them technical, in order to still have a job? How will we be able to provide for our families?

The economist Kenneth Rogoff was arguing in an article that “Since the dawn of the industrial age, a recurrent fear has been that technological change will spawn mass unemployment. Neoclassical economists predicted that this would not happen, because people would find other jobs, albeit possibly after a long period of painful adjustment. By and large, that prediction has proven to be correct.”

Probably, the above prediction will be correct for the changes that we are facing today as well. On the other hand, we need to remember something: “after a long period of painful adjustment”. If we look again in history, we remember that the industrial revolution, with all the good that it has produced over time, has been followed by tough times and events. Communist revolutions, civil wars, world wars, famine and diseases, and these just to name a few. Nothing was a 100% direct consequence of the industrial revolution, but everything was connected some way or another to all the changes brought by it.

Nobody is saying that the globalization and automation will be followed by the same type of events, but it is clear that changes are coming. In fact, they are here already.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum explores these new changes in his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution. The main aspect to consider is the fact that the first industrial revolutions “have liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.”

The changes brought by this fourth industrial revolution are bigger, more powerful, and happen at a speed that has no precedent. Everything is nowadays evolving at an exponential rate, disrupting and changing every industry, system of production, management, government.

Billions of people are now interconnected by technology though mobile devices and have access to unlimited storage and knowledge. And with the advances of technology, everything will be faster, bigger, better: artificial intelligence, production procedures, nanotechnology, biotechnology, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, robotics, energy storage, quantum computing. Each of these (and they represent only a small part of the advances and changes that are or will happen) represents a subject worth discussing in detail.

For now though, let’s get back to the issue we started with: changes in the workforce and necessary skill sets in the jobs of the future. McKinsey Global Institute has an ongoing research on the impact of technology on economy, business and society. The research results show how the adoption of automation and artificial intelligence accelerate the need of change from physical and manual skills to technological, social and emotional skills. The need for technical skills is quite clear: society needs more and more experts in the technologies that never stop developing.

Regarding the social skills, society needs specific skills that machines are not yet able to learn (and are far from it), such as finely tuned social and emotional skills (entrepreneurship, empathy, advanced communication, initiative, leadership, managing others and so on) or advanced cognitive skills (creativity, critical thinking, decision making, complex information processing and so on). The basic cognitive skills as basic data-input, basic literacy and numeracy will slowly fade away in importance, being replaced by automatic processes, while the others mentioned above will be more and more in demand.

Nobody can say for sure how everything will change, even if there are many researches and predictions related to the impact of technology on how we live our lives (with everything that is included). Everyone is trying to predict as best as possible, so we will not get caught off guard. But, after all, seeing that everyday technology brings something new on the table, something that changes at least a little bit the mechanics of our world and of our perceptions of it, how can we really be sure of anything with certainty? What we can do is have a little dose of optimism, and know that somehow we will always adapt, as human kind has done since the beginning.

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