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Where Are the Next Digital Jobs Coming From?

Society changes in direct and rapid response to the evolution of technology in general and the internet in particular. We launch an occasional series of blog articles about health, education, employment, transport, entertainment, defence, sport, finance and policing, all areas under exponential change pressure through technology.

Jobs and Technology

Technology has been destroying out-dated jobs and creating new ones ever since the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the early 1700s. The birth of the digital technology age has accelerated the whole process exponentially.

The fear of politicians (and indeed many jobseekers) is that the death of old jobs will not be outweighed by new ones, but the fact remains that we should never underestimate the power of technology to devise, invent and re-invent.

For example, according to Freelancing Matters (January 2012), the magazine of the freelancing industry, the five top in-demand skills as the year began are:

  • PHP programmers
  • WordPress programmers
  • Article writers
  • Graphic designers
  • HTML programmers

The interesting thing is that a decade ago, these jobs had not been dreamed of, much less reached the top five most desired in the jobs market.

In the mid-late 1990s there was concern about apparent shortages of IT professionals, the highly skilled engineers, software developers, programmers and analysts who drove the revolution of IT into almost every business field in the western world. Some of that still persists, but in the developing world, China and India, highly skilled professionals are available in any country they choose.

Shrinking World

There is less talk of the damage to jobs that technology does in recognition of the realities, and more talk of seeing what possibilities there are with new ones. The idea that expertise in one country can be transmitted to another (say in manufacturing something remotely or carrying out an operation part robot, part local trained human) is now seen as positive job creation.

Of course it has a knock-on effect on jobs that exist for shipping people and things about the world, but things don’t, can’t stand still. Jobs have to go with the flow.

The Atlantic Magazine published a report of a conference on jobs and technology (Feb 2011) and asked what three start-up businesses felt about the issue. The view then was that education would continue to drive innovation and life sciences, energy and technology would lead the economy.

Things that needed attention that were raised at the conference were the need to bridge better school to university, reform patent laws and business regulations, boost business investment availability and enable research-to-development to take place.

Undoubtedly these are politico-economic aspects, but they show how much the fields are intertwined as we talk of job creation and sustainability. Every country, each company wants to recruit the best brains, the most creative innovators and the best committed workers.

The Next Generation of Jobs

When technology is employed, it offers opportunities to make people use brains, create and innovate and stay committed. This optimistic view was well expressed by Mark P Mills writing in Forbes Magazine (October 2011) when he said that the world WILL see another iconic industrialist like Steve Jobs, another Apple and another boom.

The new ariser(s) will not make the same kind of product, and will not necessarily work in the same ‘technology sphere’. Jobs didn’t invent anything, said Mills, citing the vacuum tube, the internal combustion engine and the transistor that were inventions.

Jobs and others ‘created compelling products and services from the happy confluence of new technologies maturing in cost and performance’, namely the large integrated circuit (LSI), the gallium arsenide radio chip (GaAs) and the lithium-ion battery. Put together, they added up to ‘fast, powerful and cheap’.

Mills reckoned that the ‘brilliant in design, execution and function’ iPhone was Apple’s ‘big break-out product’, competitors followed and collectively transformed a global industry’. Nobody anticipated it would happen so fast nor so widely.

It is the product of Technology’s Rule of Three, like say, the Victorian telegraph (electromagnet, battery and cable making). Like Marconi’s radio (telegraph, telephone and radio frequency vacuum tube), and Henry Ford’s cars (gasoline engine, petroleum refining and the production line concept).

And so it goes on through the history of driven entrepreneurs bringing other invented things together. Mills refused to accept the ‘gloom and doomsayers’ who believe such days are behind and the world faces a long ‘technological twilight’.

Bright Future

Mills cites The Cloud, the Internet of Things, Desktop Manufacturing and 3D printers, Mobile Video among a host of revolutions that are beginning to arrive. And they will lead to yet more fresh inventions. The Cloud alone, for instance, is about to ‘unleash the next wave in the collapse in computing cost (cheap data storage/transmission, almost free wireless broadband and collateral explosion of services and benefits).

Yes, future innovations will lead to job losses, but they will lead to far more new ones. Old things give way to new. And inventors, techies and others will always need food, housing, clothes, transport, cleaning, household products and entertainment – all providing meaningful jobs for millions of people.

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Photo: Joi