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The New Rules Of Work

What Work Will Look Like In 2025

The experts weigh in on the future of work a decade from now.

What Work Will Look Like In 2025
[Photo: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]

Anyone who grew up with the notion that we’d all have jet packs and robot housekeepers by 2015 knows that predicting the future is a risky business. But as technology continues to develop and various trends, demographic shifts, and other factors create change, we are able to get a better handle on how our careers will change in the future. To get a better insight, we asked the experts what work will look in 2025. Here's what they had to say:

Tech Will Become The Great Equalizer (But Robots Might Take Our Jobs)

It’s not a stretch to predict that technology will be embedded into just about everything we do. The last billion people on the planet will be connected to the Internet over the next 10 years, says Erik Brynjolfsson, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress And Prosperity In A Time Of Brilliant Technologies. So, if you have a new idea, you can reach a much bigger audience than ever possible before. That, combined with increased globalization will create "millionaires and billionaires" out of people who know how to harness those phenomena.

Janna Quitney Anderson is a communication professor at Elon University, director of its Imagining The Internet Center, and the co-author of the Pew Center research report, AI, Robotics And The Future Of Jobs. She says that while self-driving vehicles, smartphones, drones, and new types of work robots are getting attention now, smarter ’bots, sensors, embedded systems, and other connectivity drivers will take over many of our work and personal tasks over the next decade.

"[Experts] especially expect significant evolution in the delivery of goods and services thanks to advances in interconnectivity, transportation systems and data aggregation and analytics," she says.

Photo: Flickr user Ted Eytan

Wearables Will Change Our Behavior

Wearable tech will become ubiquitous, collecting data about us and providing information to us as we move throughout the day. Have a question or need instruction? Your watch or glasses will help, improving productivity. A 2014 report by consulting firm PwC found wearable tech adoption rates currently on par with tablet adoption rates—which doubled from 20% to 40% between 2012 and 2014—when they were first introduced.

Respondents to the underlying survey predicted that facial recognition technology would replace the need to remember names (52%), and that wearables would become more of a support source than friends or family (57%). Spurred by prompting and tracking, 42% said the average person’s fitness levels would increase dramatically and 46% said obesity rates will drop. Companies and individuals will be challenged in protecting sensitive information and privacy as more and more data is collected, the report found.

Seismic Shift In Jobs

The jobs picture either delivers on technology’s promise or plunges us into a dystopian future. The same interconnected technology that will change how goods and services are delivered will "hollow out" a number of skilled jobs, Brynjolfsson says. Clerical work, bookkeeping, basic paralegal work, and even some types of reporting will be increasingly automated, contracting the number of jobs available and causing a drop in wages. And while more technology might create new and different types of jobs, so far we’ve seen more job loss than creation in these areas, he says.

Some work with become more task-oriented, with more work available through crowdsourcing and job-specific platforms. Uber is a good example, or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which pays people to perform "human intelligence tasks" that computers are unable to do, says Daniel P. Siewiorek, computer science and electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This may provide increased flexibility, but it can be tough to cobble together a living from "piecemeal" work, he says.

Who wins? Specialists, the creative class, and people who have jobs that require emotional intelligence like salespeople, coaches, customer-service specialists, and people who create everything from writing and art to new products, platforms and services, Brynjolfsson says. Jobs in health care, personal services, and other areas that are tough to automate will also remain in demand, as will trade skills and science, technology and mathematics (STEM) skills, says Mark J. Schmit, PhD, executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.

However, this winner/loser scenario predicts a widening wealth gap, Schmit says. Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace, he says.

Increased flexibility—sort of

Many believe we’ll see a greater acceptance of blended work and personal time. Schmit says millennials already accept that, but will also further drive flexibility in the workplace and that the baby-boomers who created somewhat rigid work environments are also seeking greater flexibility to work where they wish and to be able to find ways to balance work and family. The increasing pressure for paid leave may also offer some relief from the relentless drumbeat of anytime/anywhere work, Schmit says.

Eliminating Bias?

Schmit is optimistic about the impact of technology on hiring and diversity. Technological accommodations could spike employment numbers for workers with disabilities. Brynjolfsson says that hiring algorithms may move us beyond the "old-boy network" that may exclude some candidates based on gender, race, or other factors and, instead more objectively match skill sets with job opportunities. As awareness about the value of diversity in the workplace increases, such algorithms could even be weighted to make workplaces more inclusive and the hiring process will become more transparent.

Photo: Flickr user David Herrera

Growth Of Formally Second-Tier Cities

While technology has allowed many to work where they like, people haven't migrated to beautiful beaches and mountains as Lynda Gratton—management professor at London Business School and founder of the Future of Work Consortium, which analyzes workplace trends—would have predicted a decade ago. Turns out, we like to be near each other, and young people are increasingly moving to urban centers. Hot spots like New York City, Silicon Valley, London, and Seoul will continue to grow, she says. But smaller cities will see population increases, especially in millennials, who are seeking more affordable urban areas.

Related: The Top 25 U.S. Cities For Jobs This Year

In the U.S., a 2014 City Observatory report entitled The Young And The Restless And The Nation’s Cities, found that some cities have seen remarkable growth in their populations of 25- to 34-year-olds with BA degrees between 2000 and 2012. For example, the Las Vegas metro area has seen this population grow by nearly 73%, while metro areas like Oklahoma City (56.8%), San Antonio (50.5%), and Salt Lake City (50%) have all seen fast-paced growth.

An Era Of "Shared Prosperity?"

Anderson says some believe leaps in innovation will "flip the world from an era of scarcity to a time of abundance, predicting unlimited energy, food, clean water, and increasing human-life extension," she says. Machines could carry out tasks while programmed intelligence could act as our "digital agents" in the creation and sharing of products and knowledge. Hello, Jetsons.

Brynjolfsson also thinks that technology has the potential for "shared prosperity," giving us richer lives with more leisure time and freedom to do the types of work we like to do. But that’s going to require collaboration and a unified effort among developers, workers, governments, and other stakeholders.

"It’s certainly doable. I think the road is likely to be pretty rocky between now and then, but if we understand the challenge the right way, I’m confident we’ll be able to respond to it," he says.

Related: What's The Future Of Innovation?

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