Recipe for a skilled workforce

An important issue is how to develop a skilled workforce, and to provide attractions for the kind of talent that’ll support the great companies that are here, and also companies like Amazon, that we seek to attract. Alex Murphy is founder of WorkHarmony, an internationally recognized expert on job search and talent development using the internet, and we’re going talk with him about some interesting and important trends with respect to misinformation and talent development. Alex, thanks for joining us.

MURPHY: Jonathan, thanks for having me.

ABERMAN: I think that there’s a lot discussion right now in the world about how robots are going to take over the world, and we’re all just going to be hanging out. You don’t believe that, do you?

MURPHY: Right, I don’t think that that’s what’s going to happen. You know, we have a lot of predictions that are out and about in the world right now. McKinsey came out with a report last year that estimated upwards of 800 million jobs, worldwide, will be lost to robotics and automation. And while that’s true, I think the real story is how many jobs will be created by the need to support, and build, and program, and put in place those robotics and automation.

ABERMAN: So, give me an example of a comparison of, say, a current technology that uses human intervention, vis-a-vis one that doesn’t, like robotics.

MURPHY: You know, I think a really good example is the number of people that are required to support a mission for an F-16, which is less than dozen, versus an unmanned drone that, it requires several hundred people to execute out on a mission, from the programming and software support, to launch, and recovery. When you look at the difference, you’re essentially, by creating this automated robotic function, you’re actually seeing many, many more jobs, multiples of jobs, being created to support them.

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ABERMAN: It’s kind of what happened in the Industrial Revolution, where machineries and mechanization caused people to leave the farms, to come to cities to do jobs. I can’t imagine that the jobs people are doing today are even close to the jobs that they were doing a hundred years ago.

MURPHY: Yeah, you could even go back 300 years ago. I would say that the human element of what’s going to happen, as we move into the knowledge-based economy where things such as automation and robotics start to take center stage, and a lot of the tasks and functions that are done today become things that are done by machines, it opens up new jobs that we haven’t even dreamed of. And so, while you have, on one side, you have predictions of job loss, you have, on the other side, predictions that upwards of two thirds of all the jobs that people have in 2030 don’t exist yet today. So, like the agrarian to Industrial Revolution, the evolution of work, we will see something similar. The big difference will be, instead of taking 200 years to happen, it’s going to happen in the next thirty years.

ABERMAN: I had a conversation recently with another business founder who is involved in data analytics, working with Fortune 50 companies, and he started to use artificial intelligence and machine learning in his business, and his reaction to it is, he gets more interesting data, but he needs more people to interpret it and make the associations. So he believes, like you, that in his industry, artificial intelligence may be a job creator of high value-added jobs, because human beings just creatively see things that machinery can’t see.

MURPHY: So, I had this exact discussion with a person who runs an association in the job search world called TAtech, his name is Peter Weddle, and he’s writing a book called Circa 2118. So, what will the world of work look like in a hundred years? And his hypothesis, in the book, is that virtually all the jobs will be gone. From my perspective, where I sit is, exactly what you’re talking about, which is that the core human contribution to the world is creativity, and at the World Economic Forum there was an article and a discussion track around the idea that machines can’t dream, and whether it’s an analytics or robotics or automation or art, that what we bring to the world is this kind of sense of creativity, how we make things exist that didn’t exist before, and all these machines will do is they will simply create–

ABERMAN: They’re tools.

MURPHY: They are tools that will enable people to create in ways they were never able to create before.

ABERMAN: If you’re correct, and, by the way, I think you are, a lot of the efforts right now around developing skills, developing employees, are all based upon training for a specific job or training for a specific technology. Do you think that’s the right way to approach creating the right workforce?

MURPHY: I don’t, actually. it seems to be the growing trend that everybody needs to partner up with a community college to provide the most specific skills training, maybe in this particular software language, or a vocational trade, or something along those lines. And to the extent that they create a baseline of knowledge and information know-how, they are good. But the future of what people will do, again, is not known. And my favorite example has, really, come out of the world of software development.

Specifically, I’ve got two great examples. One is the most popular language right now, or one of the most popular languages or platforms to create mobile apps, it’s called React Native–that didn’t exist three or four years ago. I remember looking at a job hosting in 2012 for an iOS developer–this is the software platform that’s used to build apps for your iPhone. And, in 2012, they were looking for a person that had ten years of iOS development experience. The problem was that the iOS platform hadn’t existed but for five years. So, you just can’t learn today a language that doesn’t yet exist, and people are going to college, and they get a four year degree, and they can’t go into college and start learning something that will be invented while they’re at college. So, instead of learning specific skills, it’s really around learning how to learn, and how to learn as quickly as you possibly can, whereas in the past, maybe the core thing that somebody needed was a high IQ to really be able to demonstrate a high level of intelligence.

The future is really going to hinge upon something that I would call CQ. CQ is one’s change quotient. In other words, how adaptable are you to change? How quickly can you learn something brand new and apply it in a way that adds value? That’s, fundamentally, what most employers are looking for is, who can come into my organization and add value as quickly as possible, and come up to speed as quickly as possible, and be a contributor?

ABERMAN: Well, Alex, thanks for taking the time to talk with us about these trends, and disabusing us of some misapprehension we mare share about what the future holds.