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The World needs Ditch Diggers too!

Posted in Future of Work


I still remember these words of wisdom coming from the mouth of my then mentor & big boss running the AsiaPac unit of a global software company. His son was lacking aptitude in school and only able to focus on rugby & girls. Passing on his fatherly wisdom he said, "Well Greg, the world needs ditch diggers too." At the time I thought, what a great statement of Australian culture…find the right path for your children based on passion and skills…don't force them down your own path. 

I was thinking about this scenario in today's circumstances...as in Obama's call out..that tech automation has the power to divide us...and I was unable to reconcile it. If we can automate mining equipment in the Pilbara and a robot can lay precision brick work…is there such a thing as a ditch digger in our future? 

Personally I prefer to think of the future of technology being human led, tech enabled productivity & innovation with a few extras...like...world peace, end of hunger, etc. I'm not yet convinced in the genius view of Stephen Hawking...heading to Skynet's takeover, Ex Machina's turning point or turning us into a Matrix Duracell. Although I'd say that's closer than the Trump view that the 4th Industrial Revolution is a non-issue.

So with that in mind…what's the base level skill that fuels technology…shouldn't that be considered the new blue collar job? What Trump's vision is missing is that fact that the factory worker of the past no longer exists…they need degrees, an understanding of technology and many an ability to code or at least understand software coding. So if the AI threat is actually the end of the middle class…we need a new normal…we need the "digital ditch diggers".

What Trump's vision is missing is that fact that the factory worker of the past no longer exists…they need degrees, an understanding of technology and many an ability to code or at least understand software coding. 

What…too much? What happens when AI learns to code the base level software and takes away my new normal of blue collar workforce? Well, then we adapt again…like Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge…we've got to improvise, adapt, and overcome these obstacles. Our new normal is continuous motion…learn how to learn, with on average over 5 different careers and 17+ jobs during a lifetime…no more gold watch Chester.

I'd like to see David Autor's future come true but I just can't see how the market economy will create jobs in similar locations as we lose them and keep pace with the speed of the job displacement we'll see over the next 5-10 years…we can't simply wait for market dynamics to kick in as they may have in previous Industrial Revolutions…companies, individuals and governments need to take action.  As the previous article from the Economist states...regardless of what side of the debate you fall...all sides need to take action to stabilise this fragile future.

OK, still with me...well done, we've been to the future and back so if you're still here you're likely freaked out about your Company, Staff, Constituents...or yourself! Well, here's my view on what to do about it:

  • Learn how to build learning into your regular routine...this is your best defence against a future fraught with the computerisation of routine, non-cognitive & cognitive activities.
  • Engage with R&D Labs across Australia to ensure you're solving future problems with future technology - we're last in the OECD on R&D-Industry engagement but there are 67,000 R&D professionals out there desperate to be engaged.
  • Model, understand and action the FTE & Financial impact of major technologies (Social AI, Process AI, Fixed Robotics, Mobile Robotics, Advanced Materials) on your workforce across org, business unit, team and location.

If you'd like to engage Faethm and our Tandem platform for "Future of Work" impacts, message me directly...we're building research informed software tools to help companies and governments manage this uncertain future.