When I was 8 years old, the nuns taught me to make hemp stitches. My grandmother convinced that knowing how to embroider was an essential skill for any decent woman gave me a huge wooden sewing box (I have had toolboxes smaller than that sewing box) and I spent years embroidering tablecloths and taking them home from school.
At 18, my father gave me a 205 and carefully instructed me in the art of removing, cleaning, and sanding spark plugs so that they were always in good condition. I am 40 years old and I have never embroidered a tablecloth in my life. The next car I bought was a Volkswagen; diesel. Fifteen years later, I’m still looking for spark plugs. If I ever make a list of the useless things that I have learned in my life, surely these two will rank high.
Skills that at the time seemed absolutely essential and that over the years have turned into anecdotes. Surely you’ve heard of carders, bell ringers, spinners, watchmen, or town criers but I bet you don’t know any. Despite the historical resistance of the human being to change, despite the Luddites, Chartists, guilds, and trade unionists, industrial revolutions have been happening one after another, sinking into oblivion many of the professions that once were considered essential.
Do you want to eat out but you do not like to be talked about? Welcome to Bolt Burgers, the first restaurant where you will not have to interact with any employee. Do you travel a lot but are allergic to social relationships? The Henn-na, run entirely by robots, you are going to love it! Waiters, receptionists, messengers, cashiers, farmers, telephone operators, and millions of other jobs are at risk of following in the footsteps of the spinners of the past and being replaced by some kind of machine.
Some are tempted with the payroll and think: “now, but this will only happen to those who have mechanical jobs with little added value, right? ” Well no! It seems pretty obvious that routine tasks are easy to substitute for machines. However, as technology advances, awareness of non-routine tasks improves and these too can be automated. The key is to have enough good data that can be translated.
In their 2004 article, Levy and Murnane put driving as a paradigmatic example of an activity that is impossible to automate. Just a decade later, Google, Tesla, MIT, and Apple among others, have moved the debate to who will liquidate the autonomous car if, in the event of an accident, it finds itself in the dilemma of saving the driver or two adorable “grannies” who they cross in the middle of the street. More examples: do you remember the beautiful princess Sherezade who managed to save her skin by telling stories to Sultan Schariar for a thousand and one nights? Well, in the current version, the princess has evolved into an artificial intelligence developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology, capable of writing stories and stories with astonishing precision. And a colleague of hers, ( Narrative Science ), opts for journalism and is able to turn numerical data into perfectly written sports or finance articles.
The trick is to contemplate the specialized task and break it down into smaller, more concrete and less sophisticated actions, which can be automated. It is actually the same logic that underlies the second industrial revolution when the work performed by a single craftsman was broken down into mechanical tasks performed by many workers.
At this point, no one questions that the automation of tasks leads to job destruction. But on the positive side, automating tasks implies improving production efficiency, which often reduces the cost of the product by incentivizing demand. On the other hand, increasing the productivity of the industry promotes the entry of new agents, promoting the creation of new jobs.
What Type of Employment is Going to Be Created?
The one that cannot be done by machines. Despite the examples mentioned above, the truth is that we still do not have a good understanding of the mechanisms behind creativity, intuition, empathy, persuasion or negotiation skills, lateral thinking, and, in general, behind social skills. linked to what we call emotional intelligence. Not knowing them, it is difficult to develop an algorithm to automate the task. It is these jobs, associated with knowledge, that require social and emotional skills and that is not routine, that is going to be maintained and created in the future.
According to the World Economic Forum, there are two major trends in the creation of new jobs: on the one hand, data analysts who make sense of the information generated in different sectors; on the other, profiles specialized in the sale and commercialization of products, capable of modulating their messages depending on the clients and extremely efficient in an uncertain environment. Within these two categories, some profiles are specified, such as specialists in human resources and organizational development, specialists in materials engineering, bio, nano, and robotics, experts in legislation and institutional relations, and experts in geospatial information systems, among others. And if that wasn’t enough, all of this cooked in an environment that is also different: that of the collaborative economy.
If at this point in the article you begin to wonder if you are an endangered species, you are interested in taking a look at this work from the University of Oxford, which presents a list of 702 professions classified by the risk of being replaced by machines. It also brings a suggestive conclusion: the higher the salary and educational level associated with a job, the less likely it is to be automated. Much more optimistic, the report ” The Future of Jobs, 2025″ predicts the disappearance of 16% of current jobs (the Oxford study predicted the automation of at least 47% of jobs in the US, about 80 million in absolute terms, 15 million estimated in the case of the United Kingdom), and the creation of an amount equivalent to 9% of current employment.
Can we Contribute Something from the Technology Centers to the Employment of the Future?
The technology centers have a central role in identifying and training new profiles. In short, we have the capacity to anticipate.
Along with the transfer of technology to the market, generating technology is our reason for being, seeking new technological developments that change the current game board. On many occasions, these technological developments will have to come from the hand of specialized training of profiles that can use the technology, test it, implement it, manipulate it, maintain it and make it evolve. The transfer of researchers from technology centers to companies has this function, but also and increasingly, joint programs between centers, companies, and training agents (universities, professional training) will be necessary to guarantee an adequate number of technicians qualified in all positions in the value chain related to this technology.
An example? New technologies are a source of jobs for the future. Nanotechnology, for example, is one of the essential technologies defined by Europe, in which the Basque Country (and TECNALIA) have many and very interesting capacities. However, its development is linked to a battery of doubts: is using cosmetics with gold nanoparticles going to accelerate wrinkles? Is my washing machine with nano-silver toxic for the environment?? How safe is it to handle nanoparticles without protection? These questions open the door to the need to form expert profiles in investigating the effects of nano on the organism and on the environment, expert profiles in regulation, and expert profiles in developing and applying procedures that guarantee the safe use of nanomaterials, among others. others. And this example can be applied to practically all the technologies with which we are working today.
The next time you talk to your children about what they want to be when they grow up, offer them something more than “princesses”, “firefighters” or “astronauts”. Maybe you have a smart city architect or a little big data expert at home and you don’t know it yet.
Meanwhile, from the technology centers, we will continue working to identify the needs of the future market, to create alliances with other members of the system to train the best professionals, and to make sure that our future employees find a competitive place here at home and full of opportunities to live and work.