BY Mike Klein
It’s time for business communicators to start thinking about the predictions of a “jobless future.”
A good place to start is a piece my former colleague, Andrew Chakhoyan, published for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. In the piece, Andrew looks at how current trends in automation and Artificial Intelligence will potentially lead towards what is being called “a jobless future.” It’s a future where more than 50% of today’s jobs are predicted to disappear over the next twenty years.
Andrew, like many discussing this topic, predicts the adoption of a “universal basic income” to replace conventional wages and provide a living to masses of those unable to find a place for themselves in this automated new world. Paid employment would become increasingly rare, and generally require digital skills well in excess of what is currently available in the workforce.
Andrew’s scenario raises interesting questions for business communicators.
The first speaks to the essence of business communication itself: to what extent is the human element critical to business, and where is humanity essential in each value chain? I doubt that in the next twenty years, we will see a value chain devoid of people as customers, designers, programmers, planners, manufacturers or shippers (even if a final delivery takes place via a pilotless drone).
At the same time though, to what extent will automated decision-making guidance increasingly drive customer decisions?
Given that a large part of the value that brands add is based on human perceptions of reputation and quality, will brands become increasingly or decreasingly important, and will new algorithms emerge to drive brand comparisons if purchasing decisions are increasingly automated? And will it become easier or harder for new brands to enter markets ?
What becomes of the social contract for those who remain employed, especially in still-large organizations?
Do we need to finally replace the current one-size-fits-all corporate employee engagement model that still prizes long-term employee loyalty above all else, with something that genuinely maximizes mutual benefit from shorter-term arrangements? At the same time, do organizations need to be more respectful of those employees automation has yet to figure out how to eliminate, or can they be more cavalier, knowing that their employees have fewer options on the open market?
What becomes of compensation, benefits, taxation and national income distribution? What about global income distribution as outsourcing shifts towards “botsourcing” – a trend which could not only reduce the number of total employed, but also allow companies to move the remaining jobs back to developed markets from emerging markets?
And could new-style organizations, be they resembling today’s start-up ecosystems, or perhaps even fully bootstrapped collectives of member-volunteer-entrepreneurs with little more cash than their universal basic incomes, emerge to turn the tables on those who are attempting to ride automation to long-term profitability?
While this predicted “jobless future” is no less than 20 years away, the changes it can potentially bring and their implications need to be given some serious examination. Some starting points include how consumer appetites and behaviors will change, how brands will be perceived, and whether there will be further deterioration of trust in public and business leaders.
Andrew’s piece is an excellent starting point—and for business communicators, these questions can help to start us thinking about which of our principles, priorities and practices will survive, disappear, or require substantial adaptation.
Do you agree that the "jobless future" is a real prospect? And what changes do you think need to be made to temper its potential impact on people, institutions and society?
Internal communications pro with a bent towards increasing impact while reducing noise and friction. Former US political consultant, London Business School MBA. Tribal loyalties include IABC, EACD, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Wisconsin Badgers.