21st Century Careers and the Decimation of the Middle Class Professions

I recently attended a Career’s Evening at my 16 year old daughter’s school. The idea was that parents representing typical middle class professions, such as banking, military, accounting, medicine, law and marketing stood around answering questions from the kids, who ranged in age between 15 and 18.

Apart from the odd mobile phone, the scene may well have taken place at any time in the last 60 years or so.

And yet, things are no longer what they were and every one of those professions are going to be fundamentally disrupted by the time the children will be a few years into their career, after finishing their schooling and studying for more years at University. Those well-meaning parents probably haven’t a clue about what’s about to hit them and as a result, would be totally incapable of describing what it’s going to be like to be Doctor, Soldier or Banker. In fact, those kids couldn’t have been more misled if we’d conspired to systematically lie to them.

Here’s just a few thoughts on how these venerable professions will change as a result of exponentially increasing technology:

Military – Technology takes over. As an example, the Pentagon already has 19,000 drones and Obama has authorised over 3000 strikes, five times as many as Bush. Good article here.

Accounting – realtime reporting and specialist software will reduce most accounting functions to mere oversight, a little like the role of today’s aircraft pilots. Unfortunately, you don’t need that many people to oversee things in case they go wrong.

Medicine – the combination of realtime monitoring via the mobile (or specialist devices) and personalised treatment based on genomics is set to make today’s medicine look like 19th century butchery.

Law – when is some kind soul going to screw up this cartel? Endless duplication of contracts and paperwork and disputes that could be settled instantly based on a dispassionate examination of the facts by software. Like all these examples, there will be some edge cases where real people might be required – certainly in the short term – but a hell of a lot can be eliminated.

Marketing – one of my catch phrases recently has been that marketing has turned from a dark art into a transparent science. Probably the best preparation for marketing these days would be a maths or statistics degree.

Banking – Again, an industry that’s going to be decimated through technology. Already most trading is automated and other jobs are going to follow.

Obviously, I could delve into each of these areas in more detail and the fact that I haven’t doesn’t mean that the case is superficial. I just don’t want to write reams and reams on each argument here. If you disagree, feel free to write a comment after doing some of your own research and thinking about it. Lots of people in these jobs will be in denial, but from my perspective, it’s going to happen unless some other disaster (war, disease, climate change) hits us first.

There’s a few consequences of all this though. Firstly, the middle classes are going to be decimated in the next 20 years. The traditional professions that have maintained such a comfortable way of life for so long are going to largely disappear. Be prepared.

Secondly, what advice should we be giving those kids? I’d say that they should be thinking of a career that can’t be done by a very smart robot. And that’s probably a largely manual job like a waiter or chef on the one hand, or an entrepreneur/wealth creator on the other. These types of jobs will represent the pinnacle of earnings in society and that’s what they should be aiming for.

This might all seem very radical, scary and for many, impossible to believe. But we live in exponential times and the results are going to be change at an increasingly faster rate. The future belongs to the people who understand and embrace that change and that’s the message we should be telling our kids.

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