π Economics π Society
What are the new jobs of tomorrow?

“Jobs of the future are already here”

Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On July 13th, 2022 |
5 min reading time
Isabelle Rouhan
Isabelle Rouhan
Director of Colibri Talent
Key takeaways
  • 72% of European workers think that robots will steal their jobs.
  • This perception is mistaken and is growing with the automation of certain jobs; it is not going to go away.
  • The most highly automated countries in the world, such as Germany and Japan, are also those with the lowest unemployment rates.
  • For the most part, if we look at the heart of jobs such as caring for people or making bread, these jobs are here to stay.

The ques­tion of the jobs of the future is often seen from a neg­a­tive angle, that of the destruc­tion of jobs by automa­tion. This per­spec­tive is mis­tak­en and ignores two fun­da­men­tal devel­op­ments. The first is that although the work­force is dis­ap­pear­ing, and job descrip­tions are becom­ing obso­lete, jobs are not dis­ap­pear­ing. They are car­ried out dif­fer­ent­ly, and human skills still play a role. The sec­ond is that the jobs of the future, those that are linked to emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies such as data, draw on those of today.

Automation is not the enemy

It is true that some of the exist­ing lit­er­a­ture, such as McK­in­sey reports, empha­sise the mas­sive, immi­nent and inevitable nature of a trans­for­ma­tion that will mean the dis­ap­pear­ance of entire pro­fes­sions. Per­spec­tives like this gen­er­ate shock and do not help us to think about tran­si­tion. 72% of Euro­pean work­ers think that robots will steal their jobs! Admit­ted­ly, things are hap­pen­ing very quick­ly. But we can think about them and decon­struct our visions of the dis­ap­pear­ance of work to recon­struct a real­i­ty that will be made up of trans­for­ma­tions and transitions.

One nov­el­ty is that the automa­tion of tasks now con­cerns ser­vice activ­i­ties on a mas­sive scale. Yet, if we con­sid­er indus­try, it is already an old sto­ry – as old, in fact, as the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion. Should­n’t we learn from this? If we dis­re­gard France and the UK, which have under­gone major dein­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, and con­sid­er our Euro­pean neigh­bours, we do not see any spec­tac­u­lar attri­tion in the num­ber of indus­tri­al work­ers. The jobs are there. And the jobs, in the sense of indus­tri­al jobs, are there too. Need we remind our­selves that the most heav­i­ly auto­mat­ed coun­tries in the world (Ger­many and Japan) are also those with the low­est unem­ploy­ment rates?

This means that humans are in these indus­tri­al jobs, even if their indi­vid­ual jobs have dis­ap­peared from the nomen­cla­ture. It is nec­es­sary to iden­ti­fy the con­ti­nu­ity that lies beneath the dis­con­ti­nu­ity: tasks are con­tin­u­al­ly chang­ing, and oper­a­tors are fol­low­ing this move­ment. In the auto­mo­bile indus­try, there are now few humans on an assem­bly line, but they are found else­where, and often very close to the line: in sur­veil­lance and qual­i­ty con­trol tasks, some­times upstream, some­times downstream.

Jobs are evolving

This con­ti­nu­ity can even be under­stood by leav­ing aside the notion of an indus­tri­al trade, such as car man­u­fac­tur­er, and think­ing in terms of a trade in its own right, such as turn­er-miller. The trade that the turn­er-millers prac­tised is still there. Whist the oper­a­tor is a machine, the skilled work­er works with it, or super­vis­es it, or super­vis­es a num­ber of machines, or a seg­ment of the line. It is the posi­tion of the human being in this “job” that has changed. But the ele­ments of the job, the inti­mate knowl­edge of the process­es, tools, mate­ri­als, work­ing envi­ron­ment, the abil­i­ty to under­stand a prob­lem and to pro­vide a rapid solu­tion remain at the heart of their activity.

This evo­lu­tion that we have seen in indus­try is now tak­ing place, in fair­ly sim­i­lar terms, in ser­vices. And we find the same per­ma­nence of ‘trades’ in activ­i­ties that have been shak­en up by automa­tion and the arrival of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Let’s take three examples.

We know that the para­le­gal pro­fes­sions and a good part of the account­ing pro­fes­sions – for exam­ple, every­thing to do with expense reports – are already affect­ed by this move­ment. But the human aspect has not dis­ap­peared, it has sim­ply evolved towards an audit­ing role. In terms of employ­ment, of course, this may have con­se­quences: the per­for­mance of machines is such that the human work­force will prob­a­bly shrink. The job descrip­tion will also evolve, while remain­ing close­ly linked to the job into which the machine has been insert­ed. But the skill set required in the new job descrip­tion remains close, both in terms of tech­ni­cal skills (iden­ti­fy­ing dis­crep­an­cies, under­stand­ing VAT rates) and gener­ic skills (accu­ra­cy, atten­tion to detail).

A sec­ond exam­ple: new jobs are emerg­ing around auto­mat­ed activ­i­ties, such as data ana­lyst or AI edu­ca­tor. The job titles may some­times seem pompous, but the lev­el of qual­i­fi­ca­tion is fair­ly aver­age: around two years of high­er edu­ca­tion. These are there­fore tech­ni­cal­ly jobs that are acces­si­ble to for­mer oper­a­tors, to trades­peo­ple. We are now begin­ning to under­stand that data analy­sis and AI edu­ca­tion are done bet­ter when those who under­take them come from with­in the trade in ques­tion. There is indeed a trans­ver­sal or gener­ic part in these emerg­ing jobs. But there is still ver­ti­cal career pro­gres­sion. Pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence and mas­tery of busi­ness ele­ments remain an added value.

The third exam­ple is call cen­tres. IBM has cal­cu­lat­ed that 45% of the requests han­dled in its call cen­tres could be processed by a bot. But this still leaves room for humans: around a core activ­i­ty which, in the case of IBM, car­ried out by soft­ware. Around which the com­plex and sen­si­tive world of rela­tion­ships with users can devel­op and offer humans spaces in which to deploy their skills. And that being far from lines of script and mind-numb­ing work which still make some call cen­tres into ser­vice factories.

The results are already visible

In 2019, I pub­lished a book with Clara-Doï­na Schmelk enti­tled Les Métiers du futur, pub­lished by First. I com­plet­ed this prospec­tive approach with a sec­ond book, enti­tled Emploi 4.0, pub­lished in 2021 by Edi­tions Atlande. We based our work on a long-term fore­cast. Bare­ly three years lat­er, some of the changes we imag­ined in the medi­um term have already occurred. But these are not so much rup­tures, social break­downs and human tragedies, as they are tran­si­tions. The jobs of the future have appeared, and for the most part they are not rad­i­cal inno­va­tions. What has hap­pened is that pro­fes­sion­als, with spe­cif­ic skill sets, have seen their jobs trans­formed, and have fol­lowed this trans­for­ma­tion. Oth­ers, rely­ing on their trans­ver­sal skills but also on a “trade” qual­i­fi­ca­tion, have invest­ed in the new activ­i­ties offered to peo­ple in trades that have not dis­ap­peared, but where the machine now holds a cen­tral place. Any­one can change jobs, pro­vid­ed they are giv­en the right support!

It is true that some gener­ic jobs, such as those of mid­dle man­age­ment, are deeply dis­ori­ent­ed – espe­cial­ly with the growth of remote work.

It is true that some gener­ic jobs, such as those of mid­dle man­age­ment, are deeply dis­ori­ent­ed – espe­cial­ly with the growth of remote work. How­ev­er, the role of a man­ag­er, between organ­i­sa­tion and super­vi­sion, is at the cen­tre of the activ­i­ties that are emerg­ing and being offered to peo­ple around their for­mer pro­fes­sion. Super­vis­ing robots and soft­ware, con­trol­ling their work, extend­ing it, guid­ing it, tak­ing the best part of it: this is already the core of the jobs of the future, and these jobs are already ours.

The jobs of the future are already here. For the most part, if we look at the core pro­fes­sions – car­ing for peo­ple, mak­ing bread, defend­ing a defen­dant, erect­ing a build­ing – these pro­fes­sions are here to stay. But we must dis­tin­guish between the job and the role that we, as human beings, play in it. And this role is bound to change, some­times pro­found­ly, some­times at the mar­gin. If you take care pro­fes­sions, for exam­ple, we could cer­tain­ly imag­ine a redis­tri­b­u­tion of tasks to the robots: phys­i­cal tasks such as lift­ing patients, psy­cho­log­i­cal care, accom­pa­ny­ing, lis­ten­ing and car­ing for humans. But it is like­ly that these care robots will not be deployed for some time in France, in the way they are already used in Japan. On the oth­er hand, a part of the mon­i­tor­ing is already auto­mat­ed, which does not make the nurs­ing pro­fes­sion dis­ap­pear, nor the jobs of nurs­es, but con­tributes to trans­form­ing this activ­i­ty. The evo­lu­tion is more spec­tac­u­lar in oth­er sec­tors: a good part of the account­ing and para­le­gal pro­fes­sions are obvi­ous­ly being absorbed by automa­tion, and in these pro­fes­sions people’s time is being spent on con­trol and coor­di­na­tion. In terms of employ­ment vol­ume, each indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion has always cre­at­ed more jobs than it has destroyed. More­over, Euro­stat esti­mates that AI and dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy will cre­ate 15 mil­lion jobs in Europe, while the num­ber of jobs which will be lost is 6 mil­lion. The bal­ance is there­fore large­ly positive!

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