5 Skills You Can Count on in the Post-Job Economy
You’re doing one of them right now
Jobs have become increasingly automated since the Industrial Revolution, and we’re rapidly approaching the point where there won’t be enough decent jobs to support the population, and not enough people willing to do dirty or dangerous or jobs for wages that have stagnated.
I’ve seen lists of jobs that are supposedly safe from automation, and at least half of them have been downsized significantly within my lifetime. We already have AI managing the distribution of shipping containers far more efficiently than is humanly possible, and robots more accurate at just about everything, including surgery.
So perhaps being an Emergency Management Director is relatively safe, but in the end, it will be one person doing the work of 100, and the same goes for surgery and therapy in general. Computers are already superior to clinicians in several types of diagnostic tests, and a computer can perform functions no human can.
Aside from their speed and the depth of their access to information, they won’t ever come into the office angry because someone cut them off, and they can modulate their voices to make whoever their speaking with more comfortable, or even mimic voices if the situation calls for it.
In the new gig economy, where every job will have the pay and security of playing in a garage band, what options are left?
1. Waiting tables
Inevitably, waiters will be replaced by robots, too, but we’re still far away from the day that can happen.
Waiters have to talk to people, often with thick accents or speech impediments. We have to deal with Alzheimer’s sufferers, and learn not to clear the table or they’ll forget that they’ve eaten. We also have to navigate the kitchen, filled with angry cooks who would destroy an overly persistent robot.
The main reason is tradition. For many, especially in older or higher end restaurants, abusing your server is a part of the experience. Degrading a heartless robot wouldn’t be as satisfying.
Yes, there are robots and programs that can read, but they aren’t so great at dealing with lousy handwriting and other human failings. I’ve seen copy so indecipherable we eventually took a vote, and in the end, computers are only as capable as the people who program them. If it’s impossible for almost anyone to discern these errors, it’ll be at least equally difficult to write a script that consistently guides a computer to the proper correction.
Computers have already taken a big bite out of proofreading. They can do cold reads, or full reads of new documents, much faster and more accurately than any human, but those initial documents are still riddled with errors and subject to constant change. So for as long as there are people with bad handwriting who make stupid mistakes, there will be room for at least a few proofreaders. It’s one of the professions that’s actually making a comeback of sorts. For once, agencies and headhunters are seeking us out, and the $300 I paid a crazy ex-proofreader to teach me has proven to be substantially more valuable than my master’s degree.
We’ve all seen movies written by committee, and almost all of them disappoint.
A machine can learn structure, plot twists, and popular phrases. It can analyze the best way to alternate long and short chapters and sentences. But can a computer have a unique, relatable voice?
The more you live, the better you become at writing.
Imagine being plugged into some lab for your entire life. You wouldn’t know how to order drinks properly, or how people speak in different neighborhoods.
I’ve edited the work of sheltered writers who have the same problems. They never liked bars, so their characters don’t know how to behave in a bar, or that people typically ask for another round instead of repeating each person’s individual order.
Computers are great at analytics, and I can see them advising writers, but replacing them entirely? I’m wagering not.
This comes down to authenticity and tradition, which is why people still go to live events.
A computer could replicate any song more accurately than I could, or any human being, but would the song sound better?
Like writing, each person who plays a song adds a part of themselves to it, for better and worse. And this authenticity is what keeps on bringing us back.
With YouTube and decent $99 acoustic mini guitars out there, there’s no excuse not to play, and learning how to play musical instruments in general — and guitar in particular — has cognitive benefits, such as improving neural connections and heart health, just to mention a few.
Buy a guitar, learn the entire Beatles catalogue and the weekly top ten, and you’ll be good to go. The more you know, the easier it is to learn, so you’ll be able to take odd requests in no time, even if the person has to hum the song to you.
The most I made busking was a consistent $120 a night, which is nothing to scoff at, and definitely more valuable than my college degree.
5. Repairing computers and robots
The sole purpose of Windows might be to alleviate our collective fear of AI. Vista is going to take over the world? Really? As the old joke goes, every time you rolled down your window, your car would crash.
The same can be said of Google Translate. It appears to be improving surprisingly fast, but still mangles basic phrases and colloquialisms, and has trouble with rare languages if it even addresses them.
How we talk and communicate is in constant flux. Every year, new slangs emerge, while other words are abandoned. For as long as computers and robots work for us, they are going to need our input, and most of them aren’t capable of repairing themselves yet.
Professional athletes and actors aren’t likely to be replaced, but your chances of “making it” are close to a statistical zero. Maybe you’ll be the next Picasso, but waiting tables or busking are much more doable. You won’t be rich or famous, but you‘ll be able to eat and afford a room. And if you learn how to repair robots and computers, you’ll be set, at least for awhile.
The odds of writing for a living are also painfully low, but making an extra $50 to $100 a month during your free time is possible, and while that isn’t much, it’s better than nothing, especially if you’re compelled to keep writing anyway.
No one wants to switch careers to become a waiter at age 40 or older, but better safe than sorry, so grab a few shifts at a decent restaurant. Most places don’t pay you for your first three shifts anyway, so they’ll take the free labor while you gain some experience.
If you do only two things on this list, they should be reading and playing guitar. Maybe you’ll find a better idea for safeguarding your future if you keep on reading, and reading will improve and perpetuate your writing.
And if all else fails, you can at least play the blues.