As digitalization sweeps across the economy and disrupts not just industry after industry, but the entire capitalist system, many people are asking where the opportunities will be. In particular, in these early stages, are there safe jobs? Skills that will be needed no matter what? Good places to invest? In this early stage of the postcapitalist transition, these are reasonable questions, even though they are derived from a capitalist viewpoint. After all, the system is still capitalist, and as long as it is, the answers to capitalistic questions are important to ask and answer.
The BBC ran a story on its website today highlighting emotional intelligence as one skill that automation will never replace. While “never” may or may not be too big a claim, it is certainly true that the jobs requiring human emotional interaction won’t be automated any time soon—nursing, psychotherapy, and pastoral counseling are examples. Teaching and child care are included, too.
Emotional skills and intelligence will be needed in what I have called the new “presence economy,” that is, the economy in which physical presence is valued primarily because it is scarce. Only so many people can be in physical presence with other people at a time. Scarcity is a reality for live entertainment like football and concerts, and also for psychotherapy and other helping professions. But if new job seekers limit themselves to emotional intelligence, it won’t be enough—just as it will be insufficient to be technically able but emotionally a jerk.
In the long run, many of these presence or helping professions will undergo major changes that will further digitalize the activities of the job. Emotional skills will remain important, but also, people will need to comfortably work with the digitalized aspects of these jobs. Exactly which aspects will be digitalized and which not depends on the development of technology. But it is certain digitalization will touch all jobs.
From a career standpoint, then, investing in the development of emotional intelligence is a good bet. Likewise, improving one’s comfort with the digitalized workplace will also be key. Finally, in the early stages, the ability to think from a process management perspective about the digitalized process on will be equally important; more than operating the equipment, what is it all about? How can the current system or an existing business leverage and use it? And what is it leading to?
These topics will be critically important for job seekers in the coming 2-3 decades. Are there others you can think of? I’d like to hear.