A Short Guide To Technical Work Skills

By Murray Johannsen.  Comments or Suggestions? Feel free to connect with the author by  Linkedin or by email.   First Published. May 1, 2017.

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The world changed in December of 2022 with the launch of ChatGPT. Whether you like it or not, businesses are employing AI in every industry and just about all jobs performed by those who went to college. 

Hundreds of millions of employees will find the way they do their work drastically changed. The same goes for entrepreneurs and business owners. 

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Why Learn Technical Skills?

It all boils down to the changing nature of work. There are few, very few high-paying jobs that don’t require the use of machines of some type. You might say, that this civilization is built on our use of tools, and as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution will consist of a number of technologies, one of the most important being machine learning.

But these tools keep changing and those who wish to stay employed must change also.

According to a Rand Study titled, “The 21st Century at Work,” the pace of technological change will accelerate and will favor those who can adapt and the skills employers want.

Additionally, those without technical skills (meaning more than able to use Microsoft Office) are more likely to weather a downturn. This makes sense. If you have a choice of keeping some who know HR management and someone who knows HR management plus can program the database, which one would you keep?

A revolution is sweeping the world at this very moment. It promises things like:

In fact, a number of IT trends impacting managers and how they manage. These include:

Image by Ngchinfung (2006). Robot Dream Exhibition in Hong Kong

But the one that will produce the most amount of change is Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

The Impossibility of Being a Luddite 

Today, it’s a social taboo to be a Luddite, meaning someone who opposes technological progress. The original Luddites were highly skilled craftsmen in the textile industry who destroyed machines (Conniff, 2011). Not all machines, just the ones replacing their jobs with lower-skilled, lower-paid workers. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I denied patents if the new technology would cause her people to lose jobs.

But today, there is no counterpressure from the political elites to say that jobs are more important than progress.

The Myth of Pandora

Myths are stories — old stories. But they keep getting repeated due to some underlying truth. There are many such stories, but this one applies to technology.

Painting by: Dante Gabriel Rossetti  (1828–1882): Pandora. Hesiod’s story (written in the 7th Century B.C. has many interpretations. One goes Pandora’s curiosity opened the box that unleashed many plagues upon humankind and poisoned the earth and the water.

Welcome to a World With Technology Unleashed

It should be clear that we can no longer stop a “dangerous technology” from being developed by corporations or governments. A given technology takes on a life of its own if there are profits to be made, competitive advantage achieved, or national security enhanced.

The following is all about the major technological changes that are coming at us. See: The Top 10 Technology Trends Of The 4th Industrial Revolution

 The Impact of AI On Jobs

Source: Wikimedia Commons: Automated storage and retrieval system using the TGW Stingray shuttle technology.

Will AI Replace Workers in General?

There’s a great deal of disagreement on whether AI and social robotics will replace the more low-wage or medium-wage workers. Obviously, both will be impacted.

See Thomas, Mike (2021). 6 Dangerous Risks of Artificial Intelligence. The article covers six, but there are more. They are:

  • Automation-spurred job loss
  • Privacy violations
  • ‘Deepfakes’
  • Algorithmic bias caused by bad data
  • Socioeconomic inequality
  • Weapons automatization

Of these, the focus here is on jobs.

Will AI’s Replace Managers?

Maybe. Probably. It depends on the technical skills the manager has and the other elements of the role that the organization perceives as valuable.

Let’s assume for a minute that you are hired to make the corporation money — it says so on your resume. You are a maven as cost reductions and a champion of revenue growth. If you can keep doing that better than your AI “assistant” (who has access to terabytes of company data) you’re safe.

Will AI Replace Other Professionals?

Let’s say that you want to find a therapist to help deal with a personal problem. In the old days, you might hop in a car and drive to an office. Today, you can sit in your home, Skype, or talk by phone to someone you will never meet in person. Perhaps you can even get advice via text or Twitter. And maybe the entity participating in the therapy isn’t even human, it’s an AI (artificial intelligence) programmed to act like a therapist.

See: Try Therapy Without the Therapists

Therapy by a machine you say? Impossible. Well, it has already happened and it works in the treatment of depression using a set of heuristics from Beck’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Will AI’s Replace Leaders?

We should assume that AI and machine social robotics will become more human-like with each passing year. And that humans will treat them like other humans. But there are certain roles – certain careers – where those with empathy will excel. One example is exercising leadership — especially in situations where expertise is not so important. Another situation? Where one has to provide really, really bad news. Thus the importance of empathy and empathic communication.

See Thomas, Mike (2021). The Future of AI: How Artificial Intelligence Will Change the World: 7 ways AI can change the world for better … or worse.

Harvard Business Review: The Rise of AIs Makes Emotional Intelligence More Important

Key Events in The Public Perception of Artificial Intelligence

This is not meant to be a guide to exactly when the technology made a giant leap forward. It’s more about events that had a significant public impact in that they made the 24-hour news cycle or stood the test of time.

TEDxBoston — Release of The Race Against The Machine  (2011)  – Andrew McAfee 

This is the first video the really made members of the business elite aware that something unique was going on.

Watson Beets Jeopardy Champions (Segment from The Show Jeopardy)

The importance of this milestone, cannot be overestimated. And it happened in 2011

The (Predicted) Impact on Employment

Some economists still predict employment will not be impacted by this technology. And some government officials are clearly in denial. Probably, the best that can be said is this technology will follow the diffusion of innovation curve.

The Future of Unemployment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization? (Oxford University: Sept. 2013)

This was the first study that suggested this wave of automation was going to be different. How different? 47 percent of jobs in America are thought to be at risk.

Types of Job at Risk

So you might ask, what type of jobs are most at risk? Again, there is guidance on this as well. 

Access the Article: Future Economy

For example, one can make an argument that driverless cars won’t have that much impact. But the same cannot be said about trucks. In America, there are about 3 million drivers that could suffer job loss. Not only that, but those who work in restaurants and motels serving this industry are also at risk.

Access the article: On Self-Driving Trucks: The Social and Economic Impact

The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training. Pew Research Center (May 3, 2017)

This is a jewel. It contains expert opinion — some pretty good and others not so insightful

Access: Nine Jobs at Risk — NBC News

Most articles don’t make predictions this one does.

Industry Outlook

How to prepare America’s retail workers for technological change
(The Economist, May 12, 2017)

IT USED to be the American shopper that exemplified the state of the world economy. The focus now should be on the person on the other side of the till. America’s retail industry is huge: it employs 15.9m workers, who represent one in nine American jobs. It is also undergoing wrenching change, as e-commerce eats into sales.

The Social Impact

The meaning of life in a World Without Work

As technology renders jobs obsolete, what will keep us busy? Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari examines ‘the useless class’ and a new quest for purpose Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example (from the article by The Guardian, 8 May 2017)

Artificial Intelligence Threatens the Future of Capitalism (Venture Beat, May 8, 2017)

Considering most countries use some form of capitalism, it might mean that things might change more than we can anticipate.

What Roles Are Difficult For the Machines?

Keep the following guidelines in mind if you want to stay organizationally employable long-term.

Be An Entrepreneur

You can’t fire the big boss — well that not quite true. Since most entrepreneurs are wise enough not to go public and have a board of directors they have life-time employment as long as they have a strong balance and they’re not stupid enough to let others control 51% of the stock.

Get to the c-Level

Honestly, sometimes I think a public corporation would if it could maximize profits by downsizing to one employee. Actually, a cynic would say that in a corporation of one, the poor CEO would likely keep a small group of sycophants to boss around. Remember, c-level executives rarely fire themselves for incompetence or to improve the bottom line.

Avoid Process Jobs, Find Project Work

Stay away from jobs where you do the same thing the same way. If you’re doing the same thing the same way, a machine can likely do it faster with fewer mistakes. Since projects have more variation that process, expert systems will have a tougher time doing it. That’s why one should consider developing project management skills.

Get Into Sales

I know, no self-respecting business major wants a job in sales. Huge mistake. Sales is the launch pad that rockets you into really understanding people (and why they buy no less).

Learn to Create and to Innovate

It sometimes thought that expert systems may not be able to create. They can learn, surely. But can they come up with ideas beyond their program parameters? Can they create art? Can they write a book? Actually, the last one is not so clear. Programs are already writing articles.

Add More Skills Beyond the Technical

Technical skills are important, but become less important as your responsibilities increase. As you get promoted other skill domains become more critical. Remember, entrepreneurs and executives rarely solve just technical problems.

On Site Resources

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Aquino, Judith Careers on NBCNews.com, Nine Jobs That Humans May Lost to Robots. Extracted on May 2016.

Brynjolfsson, Eric and Mcafee, Andrew (2012) Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Paperback.

Brynjolfsson, Eric and Mcafee, Andrew, (2011) Why Workers Are Losing the War Against Machines, The Atlantic. October 26.

Conniff, Richard (2011). What The Luddites Really Fought Against, Smithsonian Magazine. March.

Frey, Carl and Osborne, Michael  (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, Oxford University. Paper.

Ford, Martin (2015). Rise of the Robots. Basic Books

Rosenberg, Tina (2015). Depressed? Try Therapy Without The Therapist, New York Times, June 19.

Santens, Scott (2015). Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck. Huffington Post, May 18.

Shinal, John (2014). Future Economy: Many Will Lost Jobs To Computers. USA Today, March 21.

Last update: May 31, 2021.

Work Skills For the 21st Century