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Which skills will be most in demand in the robot economy?

It seems de rigueur in the press to claim that robots will take our jobs, or drones will be able to make their own decisions, we read often about how advances in technology will lead to our own destruction. The Chief Investment Officer of Blackrock Fundamental Fixed Income even suggested that as many as 35 million jobs in the US may have been displaced by the advances in technology over the last 10 to 15 years.

Frankly I’m tired of the doomsayers. We will always evolve and advances in technology will create jobs. Sure jobs will be displaced … but new ones will be created.

We often hear of the Industrial Revolution being a catalyst for growth, and indeed it was, but also consider the 13th century in England. The 1200s were one of the golden ages of the Middle Ages where businesses flourished as a result of advances in technology. Royal Courts were richly furnished, monasteries grew in abundance, cathedrals rose towards the sky, watermills, windmills, bridges and ports were built all over England. The fact is we have always had cycles where new technologies contributed to new ways of doing business. There has always been and always will be new ways of production, of transportation and new consumer demands in all industries. During the Industrial Revolution advances led us away from lives that were as Hobbes so aptly put it: “nasty, brutish, and short.”

In order to thrive in the new economy those who learn to continuously upgrade their skills and harness technology will increase their worth. Those who do not will stagnate.

This dynamic creates highly skilled, highly productive workers that are increasingly in demand. Salaries for these high-performing workers will continue to grow “creative” workers, as defined by Richard Florida, may command a $61,000 premium in compensation over the average worker.

In his book The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, (New York: Basic Books, 2012, pp. 398-400.) Richard Florida, classified those that will be in demand as:

Super-Creative workers include: computer science and mathematics; architecture and engineering; life, physical, and emotional science; education, training, and library management; and arts, design, entertainment, sports and media studies. Creative workers include: management; business and financial operations; law; health care and technical fields; high-end sales and sales management.

And above all, those that posses strong analytical skills. (See for example: The world needs data scientists).

One area that is and will continue to be in demand was so well written about some 5 or 6 years ago by Marc Andreesen, the man who essentially developed the internet browser (Mosaic, Netscape), and who is acknowledged as a leader within the technology world, with ownership positions in companies such as Skype (now sold to Microsoft), Twitter and has held (or still holds) board positions at FaceBook, HP, and eBay, among others:

Which undergraduate degrees are useful in the real world?

Typically, those that have a technical element of some form — that teach you how to do something substantive.

Engineering degrees obviously qualify. The current myth that engineering and computer science degrees are less useful because all the jobs are going to India and China is silliness; ignore it.

Hard science degrees — physics, chemistry — also clearly qualify, as do mathematics and economics.

Why do I take this stance?

Technical degrees teach you how to do something difficult and useful that matters in the real world. Even if you don’t end up actually doing what the degree teaches you how to do, going through the experience of learning how to do it will help you go through other serious learning experiences in your career. Complexity and difficulty will not faze you.

Plus, technical degrees teach you how to think like an engineer, a scientist, an economist, or a mathematician — how to use reason, logic, and data. This is incredibly useful in the real world, which generally demands rigorous thinking on the path to doing anything big.

Plus, technical degrees indicate seriousness of purpose to future employers and partners. You get coded right up front as someone who is intent on doing real things.

Marc’s companies and investments in early stage entities have added billions of dollars to the world economy, changed the way many of us communicate, learn and do business. Indeed created channels of accelerating and improving the way we do business, enabling our own businesses to prosper and in the process possibly created tens of thousands of new jobs.

Marc’s philosophy, and now mentoring and investments into new companies, has been the bedrock of economic growth and with it substantial job creation and innovation of new tools that add real value to the world.

In another blog post Marc indicated his hiring preference of engineers.

I think as the robot economy continues its upward spiral of growth we would be well advised to follow his suggestion.


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