A panel of global IT leaders recently debated how technology will change the future of work at the Cornerstone Conference of the International Women’s Forum in Barcelona. What wasn’t up for debate? Whether it will. 

Top executives from Intel Corporation, IBM Europe, Repsol, GMSA, and Dentons shared their insights on the latest technological advances and how technology will change jobs in the future. According to the speakers, the big confluence in technology is the rapid development of three tools: 5G (the much-faster next generation of broadband connection), IOT (the Internet of Things), and AI (Artificial Intelligence). These developments will drastically change the technological landscape and how work gets done.

How technology will change the future of work in ways we can’t predict

The panelists agreed that the new technologies do not necessarily mean a loss of jobs. However, they will continue and perhaps accelerate the changes in the kinds of jobs that will be available. They predicted that half the jobs that will be available in 2025 don’t exist yet. 

What does this mean for job seekers as well as leaders who will be looking to fill these new jobs? Although we don’t yet know the exact job descriptions, the panelists described the skill set that will be essential for these new roles: complex problem-solving, critical thinking, people skills, and hunger for life-long learning. Some of the panelists emphasized the importance of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), while others stressed the importance of a broad background in the Humanities.

What technology, jobs, and the future of work looked like in 1968

That conversation took me back to a presentation I heard in 1968 at Michigan State University. I was part of a cohort of high-achieving high school students who had been invited to MSU for a weekend to introduce us to what the university had to offer. The speaker, whose name I have long forgotten, talked about the profound changes that were looming then — in technology, medicine, genetics, and other fields. 

He emphasized that our generation would be required to make complex ethical choices about these innovations. His key point was that making those ethical choices required both a thorough understanding of the science and a deep knowledge of ethics, philosophy, and the social sciences. His speech made a deep impression on me and has guided my thinking about education ever since.

Preparing for the impact of technology on jobs

Over 50 years later, I was fascinated to hear the exact same advice. To navigate the massive changes that lie ahead, we will need workers and leaders who understand both science and the humanities. Furthermore, the panelists predicted that the huge demand for these skillsets will lead to more diversity in the workplace, because companies simply won’t be able to afford missing out on talent because of gender, race, age or other biases.

The panel’s conclusion? The phrase they used was “cautious optimism,” which of course delighted me, because the title of my company newsletter has been The Cautious Optimist for the past ten years. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here — let’s go!  

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