In 1999, half of U.S. households had a cellphone. Today, nine in 10 households have a wireless phone, and six in 10 have a smartphone. Previously, ATMs replaced bank tellers. Today, smartphone apps can be used instead of ATMs for many transactions. Robots are taking the place of factory line workers. And drones may displace delivery trucks. This is the path of progress.
While these transitions can be challenging or even painful, ultimately, they are an opportunity for industries to adapt and meet new realities. So, how can companies get out in front of these technological advances? How can workers ensure their skills will carry over into a more digitized world? Employers and employees must work together to meet these challenges head on and prepare for the future.
Barring government blockades, driverless cars, wearable computers and countless other innovations will dramatically change the way we currently work and play. Recently, President Obama kicked around a soccer ball with a robot during his trip to Japan, demonstrating the lifelike properties of these machines. The ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has depended on drone submarines to scour the Indian Ocean for signs of the plane. And Google recently announced that its driverless car is learning to navigate city streets safely.
These innovations will completely change industries and replace many jobs, but they’ll also provide new opportunities for employment. Robots will one day be able to take over the most dangerous parts of military duty, perform delicate service functions and who knows how many other tasks. We’ll use drones for everything from police work to real estate to standard deliveries. And driverless technology will radically transform our on-the-road experience and play a huge role in public transit and other transportation services.
Technological advancements like these always lead to changes in the job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are now 4.2 million job openings in the U.S., yet we continue to face high unemployment because employers can’t find workers with the specific skills they need to fill the openings they have. Only 27 percent of those open jobs require a college degree, and others require focused technical training. Still, young adults continue to graduate with expensive college degrees they can’t use, and struggle to find work because they don’t have the skill sets needed to meet the job market’s demand.
It’s time to rethink our training and education systems to meet the demands of today’s tech-focused economy. Before they enter the workforce, more people need to be trained to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. As technology continues to automate low-skill tasks, industries have to figure out the best way to invest the human capital they already have. Robots may perform better and more efficiently on the assembly line, but they can’t replace person-to-person interaction, relationship-building or any of the uniquely human functions that are critical for businesses to grow and thrive. Employers must stress training and ongoing development in basic interpersonal skills like empathy, eye contact and communication, as well as sales and problem-solving for employees at all levels.
As technology frees people to do more creative and complex work, we must give them the training to do it well. Innovation will continue to change industries and shift the job landscape. This should not be cause for alarm; instead, it’s an opportunity to exercise our imaginations, to grow and to create entirely new industries, training programs and careers. Employers must ensure they’re taking the steps now to weather the changes that await us all tomorrow.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.