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The Future of Work


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Quite a few of us can remember jobs that paid well, employed a large number of people but no longer exist; and entire work classifications that no one does any more. And it's not just low tech jobs that are disappearing. The guy who got me into ham radio when I was 12 was a television repairman. That was an industry that barely lasted 30 years. But no one can say that the people who did it were unskilled.


There are pundits predicting that half of the job categories that exist today will not exist 20 years from now. This could include skills like computer programming where even today there are applications that can build software from just checking off the characteristics desired in the end product.


Will taxi drivers disappear when self-driving vehicles are common? Airplane pilots (the Secretary of the Navy just predicted the end of piloted combat aircraft)? I can remember when airline pilots were among the highest paid workers in the world; today, not so much.


The US has three major Merchant Marine Academies yet the maritime industry in this country has changed radically. I was an officer on an Exxon ship that was built in 1955 and rated to have over 50 crewmembers. When I sailed on her she had only 21 crewmembers. There was an entire deck of empty cabins I called, "The Lost City of the Lexington."


I have two children. One finished college and married an engineer and is raising a family in an upper middle class home situation. The other quit college, couldn't quite figure out where he was going, and is raising his family in a working class situation. One has owned 4 homes and amassed some wealth before the crash of 2008 brought banks to a rethinking of how they're going to loan money but because they were home owners before the crash they have credit advantages that let them buy houses after the crash. The other, six years younger, can't scrape together enough for a down payment (in these times) on even one.


This is all bound to have a serious impact on our culture. For one thing, a substantial segment of us think everyone should work for a living but if half the jobs we have today are gone then what, exactly, will they do? How will they support the families they are bound to create? Are we looking at future generations that will be, one at a time, less well off than those who were born earlier?


Medical science has found big differences in the brains of poor children compared to wealthy children. But people who are unskilled do not necessarily understand that they are unskilled. The Dunning-Kruger effect describes this pretty effectively. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect. If entire populations begin to think that they are just as entitled to a good job and a good wage as anyone else, what are the likely consequences of this?


Clubs like the Escapees are bound to feel the effects of this. Fewer jobs means fewer people who can afford RVs. Will there be enough "technocrats" (for lack of a better term) in 20 years to populate RV parks or will they be, like drive in movies, just remnants of a bygone era?


I can see some of this happening now. People who think they are technical really only understand the surface of technology; just the parts they see and can manipulate with little understanding of the bits that make that part possible.


What happens when a culture that includes many people who can own a home and an expensive RV (or a home and a vacation home) leave the scene to a culture in which a sizable majority can't get financing for even one home?


This group is pretty diverse and includes people who are wealthy enough to drive $million motor homes around the country as well as members who just get along on social security. So I'm interested in your thoughts.


What do you think?



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This has happened before, for centuries, only now it's happening at a much quicker pace. How many blacksmiths do you know? How many wheelrights do you know, or saddle makers, or cowboys? Because of the speed that technology is advancing people are going to have to adapt more quickly or be left behind. Those people will always need someone to clean their houses or to do their landscaping.

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I agree with Raquel. As the job market changes job seekers need to adapt to the changes. A good friend of mine, now retired, lost his manufacturing job to automatic robots a bunch of years ago. About six months of training later, he was back working in the same plant at a higher salary, maintaining the robots that replaced him. From there he went on to learn programming the robots and eventually moved to another company where he headed up their adoption of robot technology in a new facility.

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I see your point Desert Rat. Not so much that some employment fields are going away as that the entire job market is shrinking. For instance, one farmer used to feed three other people, now with automation that same farmer feeds over a hundred.


Hubby and I have discussed this in regards to our families. When I was growing up, people from the south migrated north for jobs. No one migrates now because the good manufacturing jobs they chased are gone.


A solution might be to restart the WPA? The US is in great need of infrastructure repairs and people need jobs... Another might be to start a negative income tax so that everyone has their basic necessities met, freeing them to pursue art or drug use, whichever they choose.


I retired from a high tech career but toward the end I could see that it was not going to be a viable career choice for those coming after me. Flow charted programs and onboard diagnostics eliminated most of the technical troubleshooting that earned me a good salary and retirement. Not sure what career I would want if I were starting now, nothing looks like a good bet to last forty years.

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It isn't so much the changing jobs that worries me but where the jobs are done that has me worried.


I was on a project with a fair number of folks, supervisors, program managers, a customer requirements team, documentation team and an assortment of programmers, we were doing pretty well on our project for the first five years and we all thought we had good jobs for the foreseeable future. Nope! At contract renewal time they bid a whole new concept for the project and bounced almost all the programmers and most of the other folks keeping only the customer requirements and documentation teams. All the other (high paying) jobs were farmed out overseas where the headcount was doubled but at much less than what we were paid. Most of the folks left behind were just a conduit to the overseas operation, passing information and doing minor tweaks.


So we moved a bunch of good, long term jobs elsewhere. I ducked out to another contract for a year and retired early.



I do see the issue with things needing fewer people to get accomplished in a lot of areas, automation reduces headcount.



My son had no interest in school and graduated with a fine American education, not one job skill though. I thought long and hard about what he could do with himself in the future and how he could make some kind of life before I suggested a service job. He finally got a part time grunt job humping freight, parleyed that into a decent service job and has been working his tail off building seniority and making both his bosses and the union happy. He will never have much but he will be able to have a decent life and with a service job it won't be whisked out from under him and shipped overseas.

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Anyone getting ready to get into the work force needs to look around, and ask themselves "What profession is it that will always be needed by people?" As long as there's people walking around there will be a need in the Health professions, also the service sector, like plumbers & electricians, auto mechanics etc. Someone with a trade will be better off than someone with a degree in basket weaving. Trades people can make a really good living provided they're hard working and are flexible enough to go where the jobs are. I instilled this in my kids and one is an RN, the other went into the banking field. The real key though I believe is...WORK ETHIC. Before I retired when new hires came in the first thing I noticed was the lack of a work ethic. They would try to get by doing the bare minimum, without any thought to the future. It might have to do with the attitude that the employer should be grateful that they chose to work there. It also goes to thinking that a huge raise in the minimum wage should be given for flipping burgers, or stocking store shelves. Since when has those types of jobs become career moves. I mean even McDonalds had to dumb down the cash registers years ago because workers had a hard time giving the correct change. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I firmly believe that a lot of the problems facing America today starts in the home.

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This is turning into a pretty interesting thread, so think I'll join in.


How many blacksmiths do you know? How many wheelrights do you know, or saddle makers, or cowboys?

Blacksmiths are rare today and most who succeed in that trade are more artisans than tradesmen, but in fact there are lots of cowboys and saddle makers if you look in the right places. In fact, the saddle maker that I know is so busy he wishes that there were more of them as he simply can't keep up. Between the working cowboy market and the pleasure horse owner, that trade is still very viable but as far as I know the only way to learn it is by an apprenticeship. Even so, I do very much agree with your point that jobs are changing, just as they always have but at a more rapid pace.


A solution might be to restart the WPA?

I don't see government as a real solution today as not only are we already deeply in debt but we have difficulty in filling the jobs of that type now because so many just don't want that work and the reason that the depression era government programs came to a successful end was mostly the impact of WWII. War today don't help nearly so much because it has become a technological battle and requires far fewer people.


Anyone getting ready to get into the work force needs to look around, and ask themselves "What profession is it that will always be needed by people?"

One of the things which has changed dramatically in recent years has been the pace of technology and science advances. While it was once true that if you learned a trade well you could count on that trade to provide you with a living for your entire working life, that just isn't the case today for many reasons. Not only do jobs change far more rapidly but we also live much longer and the combination means that in order to hold a good position for an entire career you must constantly be learning the new advances in your field and move with those advances. Even the saddle maker who has a trade today that is pretty similar to what it was 50 years ago, is using equipment for that trade which did not exist when he first began his career.


I was in electronic/mechanical service work and of the things which were found in a circuit when I retired in 2000, at least 80% of the components had been invented during my 40 year career. The really technical things in 1960 were based upon vacuum technology and the transistor was newly invented and considered by most of my instructors to be a novelty that would not last. Integrated circuits and microprocessors had not been thought of or were figments of science fiction. No matter what career choice a young person today may choose, he must expect to be part of a continuing education program if he is to have a career path for his entire working life. The majority of service jobs which stay pretty much forever are those at the very bottom of the pay-scale and will never provide a comfortable income for a family to the typical worker. I knew a fellow who began his working life in janitorial work, partly because he didn't want to continue in school beyond HS. Today he is very successful as he converted his cleaning skills into a very large janitorial service company but he also admits that he did go back to school in order to learn the things that he needed to be able to manage a company. He told me a few years ago that it all started with taking one course at the community college to keep books and before he finished he had enough to graduate. But the point of this story is that in this modern world, continuing education is required to keep pretty much any career viable for all of the years that one will need a job.


I once read a quote from someone (I don't remember who said it) that I believe applies today more than it ever has. "The most important decision a person will ever make is when they choose to stop learning."

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There is little doubt in my mind that the right skill set is critical.


But I am more worried about the growing numbers of people who simply are unable to get the right skill set and who are, basically, unemployable. They aren't disabled in the normal sense, but they are not going to be part of any technical trade... ever.


Inner cities are packed full of them.


For the past few decades large numbers of unemployable people have turned towards criminal behavior. But the culture is moving in a direction which might actually eliminate some criminal behavior. There will be little use trying to make money dealing in marijuana in Colorado, for instance. And while those who have been skilled at growing marijuana may be able to turn that into a legal profession, the guys on the street corners are either going to have to move into another line of drugs or..... well, or what?


All the stories about someone who lost one job but got skilled in another trade and now earns more money than ever are wonderful. I had two employees - both in their 40s - who had been retrained at the local community college. Each had certifications in Cisco, A+ tech, and basic MS certs. Each of them came to me at no cost. They continued to receive unemployment benefits while working for my company. Neither of them could do the most basic troubleshooting. One of them, a former house framer, apparently had the habit of laying his cigarettes down on 2x4s while he was working. He laid his cigarette down on a cardboard box next to the door to our offices (non smoking offices) and almost burned the building down. I later saw his name mentioned in a news report covering a guy who had been shot in the chest with a nail gun... the shooter was our former "tech". He went back to framing houses.


The second one disappeared for 3 days during a major installation and configuration effort at a client. He had a cell phone the corporation had assigned to him that he did not answer. When he reappeared (on a Thursday morning) and was asked where he had been he actually got somewhat irritated. His pet dog had died and they had gone 200 miles for a "funeral".


I fired him. He is now an equipment operator for a contractor at Hanford. Think about *that* for a few minutes. :P


Without basic skills and, apparently, even the ability to make reasonable decisions.... what are we going to do with them? Because, I can assure you, they don't think that the problem is them.



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When kids are getting an education, they need to be reminded that technology changes rapidly and what was once a well paid career can suddenly be phased out, Even after you are out of school, you will need to stay ahead of the curve with additional training and education. If you are to succeed, you have to have a current education.


Along the lines of education, not everyone needs to go to college. A lot of the youngsters would do good to get a technology degree or go to a trade school.


I feel engineering will always be a good field, but you have to keep up within your field and/or shift your field as things change.


I feel bio-Medical engineering will be a good field, but I can see rapid changes that have to be followed.


I am a registered professional engineer (mechanical) specializing in applied heat transfer and thermodynamics. I spent my career in large industrial refrigeration. The basics behind the equipment remains unchanged since the early 1900's. but the surrounding technology has change a lot. Controls changed and the big changes came with refrigerants.


The PE license was changed some years back to require 20 hours of professional development each year. By requiring a continuing education, the PE is forced to improve and stay current in their skills.


But we are seeing a large number of "workers" that feel they are "entitled" to more money. Recently, the fast food workers demanded $15.00 per hour for serving French fries. If we continue on this path, you will see $20.00 lunches at McDonalds. The way out of the low paying jobs is to get an education and learn to speak PROPER English.


A high paying job is not an entitlement; it is something that you have to work for.


My younger brother had the same opportunities I had, but he refused to go to college or a trade school. Now he resents me and my wife and told me that were were stuck up felt we are better than other people. We have tried to help him through some rough economic times, but he still will spend two nickels if he has one.



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" If entire populations begin to think that they are just as entitled to a good job and a good wage as anyone else, what are the likely consequences of this? "


Machines and robots were mentioned to replace workers. I know of one case where prison labor was brought in to replace the "entitled" crew. The prisoners aren't ever late, don't call in sick or "no show", they aren't ever drunk or on drugs, they don't talk back, they don't talk trash about why they aren't getting paid $25 an hr to push a broom, and they don't claim their back is hurt and need to go on lifetime disability.


I've heard it said that if you take all the money in the system and "redistribute" it evenly, it will be back about where it is today in a couple years.


Pols will never admit that there is no way to legislate or control our society model such that an individual with intelligence, a plan, drive, and the willingness to work hard can be held back to the level of "average". I am looking forward to RV camping next to this person.

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The other factor that may be at work today is what I call "the lack of loyalty." In my fathers time, it was normal for a young man to go to work for a company, work there his entire career, and then retire with a pension he could count on. Often, the next generation followed at the same company.


That has all changed. The companies show no loyalty towards their workers, and try to weasel out of paying pensions. It is a two way street. The worker shows no loyalty either and will change companies for a nickel more an hour.


The basic worker/company relationship has changed radically. Maybe it is all part of the "me and only me" attitude that seems so common today coupled with jobs moving off shore.

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The way out of the low paying jobs is to get an education and learn to speak PROPER English.


What do you call someone who can speak 3 languages?



What do you call someone who can speak 2 languages?


What do you call someone who can speak 1 language?

An American
Having the ability to speak multiple languages with be an asset in any future job.
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Zulu: It is funny you say that because I know multiple people who were not allowed to learn the language of their parents, since the parents thought "English only" would give their kids an advantage. Now many of these kids are adults and wish they were bilingual.

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Interesting topic.


I worked in IT for 35 years, then local politics. For years I managed IT Technical Support in large organizations. This is about as fast paced, high stressed, high tech - rapidly changing, vital function that any large organization must have. I recall in 1992, we fit a TCP/IP stack onto a large IBM mainframe network running VTAM/SNA... the first in the Midwest to do so. SNA did not exist 15 years earlier... but did run the large networks of the 1980's... and was then obsoleted by TCP/IP (Internet networking) in the 1990's. Tremendous change.


I mention this tech jargon to make the point: In today's work world, change is the only constant. One MUST keep on learning... and updating knowledge, and keep on thinking ... "what is my next job and what will I need to learn to get it".


Count on Employer loyalty to stay employed? Highly overrated... I have seen how that works from both sides, and anyone that encounters that in a solid environment should be appreciative. But if I were 30 again... I would not count on it.


Lastly... young folks. I am not sure what has happened, but it appears to me that our younger workforce has not "learned how to learn"... much less that they are expected to learn - and not just be 'taught'. But that could just be older-age speaking...


Fun topic!

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There are billions of people around the world willing and able to work for pennies on the dollar. The downward pressure on wages and benefits is unrelenting in this country. We are in a long term deflationary environment.


And other cultures out there have a fierce determination to get educated and compete in the world economy. Can anybody in this country claim that with a straight face.


We are in a downward spiral and our leaders appear to be totally blind to it.

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Zulu: It is funny you say that because I know multiple people who were not allowed to learn the language of their parents, since the parents thought "English only" would give their kids an advantage. Now many of these kids are adults and wish they were bilingual.


on that note: I speak only English. I work mostly in the Gulf area and there is a ton on Spanish speaking workers. If someone asks why I don't speak Spanish, it is simple. We are in America. We speak English.


Mmmmmmmm . . .

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It is true. All of my grandparents came from Italy for the freedoms and a better life for themselves and family. That meant being an American. They would not speak Italian around us or teach us the language.They wanted us to be American. Yes I wish they would have taught us the language but I understand why they did not.


They never really spoke good English but they tried.


Only one of their children was born in this country and spoke perfect English. The other two had slight accents. My generation were the first true Americans in the Family. They were proud of that. I speak only English.


It is also true as I observe from working at Disneyworld that most foreign folks speak some English or at least one member of the family does.

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AprilWhine and Mastercraft have caught the underlying idea of why I started the thread. Not that all the posts aren't interesting but they generally miss the point.


In 20 years there will be millions of unemployable people in this country - and in many other countries. We may see manufacturing come back to the US because of automation but that is not going to employ many people.


The Dunning-Kruger effect says that people who are incompetent do not realize that they are incompetent. They think that they know just as much as anyone else; often more, in fact. The Internet is crammed with evidence of this.


They believe that they deserve good jobs at decent wages. They are convinced that their skills are above average.


They can buy guns.



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Anyone can learn a craft with any normal intelligence. They will always be construction and maintenance on these plants. It does take time to learn a craft and it is outdoor work, climbing, etc. I truly enjoy my craft. Most everyone I know do. We have many college degree craftsman. Pay is good also. 100k +

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This is a really thought provoking thread, thanks to the OP, and some other comments of interest. For sure things have changed generation over generation - from hands on furrowing and haymaking the fields with forks, to utilising beasts pulling a rudimentary wooden style plough or trailer, to tractors with small hydraulic attached vehicles to huge combines and computer controlled machinery today. Over the generations we are doing away with any form of hands on needs for workers due to automation and countries will be their own demise with sourcing overseas production at cheaper and cheaper rates. Quite rightly unless one creates their own business or is a skilled tradesperson (hair dresser, electrician, plumber etc) that can't be replaced by automation where will folks work to create an income to live. We only need 'x' amount of any skilled trade to service 'x' number of population so what will everyone else do?


I recall in my earlier years where electricians/plumbers/carpenters etc were great in demand trades to have, then 15 years later they weren't so well paid by comparison or struggling to get enough work with over supply so new graduates from High School looked to other fields such as engineering (all were apprentices hands on with some schooling on day release each week or one week in four) became the in thing in the UK to get into and the start of computers started to raise it's head.


Look a decade and a half later, and we had a huge shortage of electricians and plumbers. I truly believe and have evidenced that half the problems today besides the fact that "we" don't make anything much any more, is we have lost commonsense at the expense of degrees. Still to this day I see new graduates come out with no hands on to speak of experience, and even looking at those graduates five years on the job afterwards, they are nowhere near the calibre on the job of those that years ago did hands on apprenticeships straight from school.


Nursing used to be one year as a SEN (State Enrolled Nurse), two years as a SRN (State Registered Nurse) - now it's 4 years minimum, same with teachers (daughter taking 6 years nearly due to one excuse or another or misinformation from counsellors at the University, in order to get into the two year final teaching program). You used to finish school in the UK at 16, or if 'A' levels to become a Vet, Dr, etc then 18 years old, then go straight into your career of choice with lots of hands on experiences as well - none of this ridiculous pre-requisites post high school education that also costs an arm and a leg to achieve. Grieves me how many 30 and 40 somethings I see today still with unbelievable student debt. Most of them can't even get a job when they do come out with their degree/qualification for their field of work which is a double whammy. I do wonder as I'm sure my grand parents did many years ago where this will all end.


Everything from the first TV set, first auto etc has it's timeframe and opportunity window to capitalize on, then that lovely word "progress" changes it all for the so called "better". Funny isn't it how our grandchildren won't even bat an eyelid on these subjects in the future, as they say you never miss what you never had/experienced.

As for the reference to not being allowed to speak your mother tongue in your households as migrant origins to the USA, I found that very very interesting. In order for us to emigrate to Canada back in the early 90's I was interviewed by the Canadian High Commission half in English, half in French to test my ability to speak the two official languages - yet everywhere I go today here whether in their homes or in a line up at a theme park, supermarket, doesn't matter, I hear everyone speaking their own historical tongue even if they were born in Canada. There is no conscience regarding how this might be deemed by those of us that only speak the official two languages and embraced the country gratefully that adopted us. Interesting how different one side of the border is about speaking English versus this side that speaks everything all the time in public, not just privately in their homes which personally I think would be far more polite. No matter which country we've ever visited we've always tried to speak a few key phrases out of courtesy and have been warmly smiled at for our efforts, sad as they might sound at the time.

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