Jobs for The Boys?

18/03/2016

A week ago or so, a good friend of mine and I were discussing our kids’ futures. He was concerned; as he put it: our parents knew that if they worked hard they would do ok, we knew that if we got a good education and worked hard we’d do ok too. But what of our kids? In an increasingly globalised employment market where a university degree is a pre-requisite for unpaid intern jobs what advice can we give them? What subjects will provide them with the best return on the time invested in education?

In a recent BBC documentary, the presenter stated that the median wage in USA has not changed in real terms for nearly 40 years. The reasons given in the documentary were: increased mechanisation, weaker unions and globalisation. This picture is one which we are familiar with in the manufacturing sector in the West however it seems that the services sector is also now under the same threat.

In the last week we have seen a computer beat a human at the ancient game of strategy called Go. As I am sure you will have read in the papers, this is a far more complex game than Chess which was mastered by computers 20 years ago. So what? Well, if a computer can work out a strategy to beat a world class Go player, it may also work out the rules and strategies you use to do your job.

Let’s consider financial planning as this is an area I understand. A UK financial services group, has just sacked 220 financial advisers. The reason? The bank felt that it would be able to offer financial products to customers more competitively if it used Robo-advisers. A Robo-adviser is a computer programme designed to replace the financial adviser. The UK regulator has just signed off the use of these programmes having worked out the legalities of giving advice via this channel.

Now if you are a customer of this banking group with less than £250,000 to invest you will be directed to their website or app to obtain financial advice. Proponents say that it is quick, easy and costs less. There is also a feeling that the tech savvy will select this over traditional options. Those with more than £250,000 will be given the opportunity to meet with a qualified person.

Back to my original point, what will our kids do in the future? Well I think the workplace will be very different. Computers have already made the daily commute for many people a thing of the past and we are far more productive than we once were. We are developing machines which are ‘learning’ better ways of doing things through repeated experience to optimise the outcome. However all of these machines need programming and maintenance but we are not destined to become a race of programmers and maintenance technicians.

There are many things computers are not very good at including creative work – we have yet to design a computer with an imagination. This means areas such as art and scientific research remain safe areas. There are also lots of jobs where humans are required such as in healthcare, management and enterprise.  So whilst there may be fewer financial advisers in the future, which some may argue is a good thing, there will certainly be jobs for our children and our grandchildren but the way they earn their living will be different and possibly unimaginable to us, just as our grandparents may have struggled to understand what we do for a living.

I hope the above was interesting, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.