Veterans Day is our national holiday to recognize veterans of the armed forces who served honorably in the military -- in wartime or peacetime. The observance originated in 1919 on the first anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I and was known as Armistice Day. On such a special day that emanated from such a significant event and time in our past, it’s healthy to look towards our future. What will be the key attributes that will help you navigate the “new world” of the 21st century? How can you gear yourself up to prepare for tomorrow’s unknown challenges and opportunities? And what will be the best career opportunities in the future?
Similar to today, the enormous global changes coming out of World War I posed tremendous challenges to returning troops. At that time, the United States found itself recovering from a world war that was built upon the foundations of the Industrial Revolution and mechanized production. Today, we face a new Industrial Revolution—what scientists call “Industrial Revolution 4,” or IR4 for short. IR4 propels us today from IR3 (1969 – 2016), replete with its semiconductors, mainframe and personal computers, and the World Wide Web to what we’re just now beginning to reckon with—artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nano-, bio, and IT technologies, 3D Internet (i.e., the “Metaverse”), and cyber-physical systems. Sure, that sounds like a lot. But the whole world is experiencing evolutionary change at revolutionary speed, so it’s worth going over some of the “rules of the road” for our 21st century, IR4 world.
What CEOs Want Today
Let’s start at the top of the food chain. CEOs have always valued leadership, communication, and teambuilding in workers and leaders at all levels. But it’s more nuanced than that today. Nowadays, CEO surveys focus on collaboration, creativity and innovation, accountability, and agility. Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily, to incorporate and adapt to change, and to seize opportunities that may otherwise miss awareness or be rejected by others. Agility is a mindset, an approach to change, that will serve you well. In fact, you’ve likely already experienced a boat load of “change management” initiatives in the workplace (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) that have prepared you well for the future challenges coming our way.
An Agile Approach to Change
Economists and corporate futurists provide general guidance that speaks to expecting the unexpected, exploring the unknown, embracing uncertainty, and learning how to “unlearn” in order to move past our current assumptions and biases. Their logic? Opportunities for change are massive. Just like many of the jobs of today didn’t exist a decade ago (think social media marketing and online data security), many opportunities will be created in the near future that don’t exist quite yet. Ever heard of “vertical agriculture” (i.e., growing vegetables without sun or soil)? How about 700 mile per hour high-speed rail that will move goods from Los Angeles to San Franciso in 20 minutes? Solar carports, solar roof tiles, and solar pavement are already in development. And automobiles may soon become moving health checkup facilitators every time you get behind the wheel, checking your weight and heart rate and potentially dispensing medicine aromatically. Even smart toilets are getting into the game, which can be constructed with biomarkers to detect illnesses early.
Imagination Trumps Knowledge
Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And that about sums up the critical skills necessary for tomorrow’s job market and career trajectories. Corporate futurists constantly ask, “What else am I missing? What’s hidden in plain sight that’s right around the corner?” That very same approach will help you navigate tomorrow’s career opportunities. It’s true that artificial intelligence will likely replace repetitive types of jobs. But similar fears occurred decades ago when prototype robots “learned” to perform spot-welding operations, as Victor Scheinman created the Stanford Arm, a programmable six-jointed robot. True, those robots took over people’s jobs, but in fact, we see more jobs today than before, many of them richer and better paying, increasing the wealth and wellbeing of our workforce.
Best Career Opportunities in the Future
New jobs in the areas of green energy, digital health and telemedicine, AI and machine learning, data privacy and cybersecurity, space exploration and colonization, blockchain and cryptocurrency, virtual and augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and sustainable agriculture are coming our way. Job titles like AI Drone Technicians and Operators, Prompt Engineers (who feed questions into AI systems), AI Trainers and Explainability Experts, and even Chief AI Officers and AI Ethicists are in the making. Be open to these new trends and technologies. Educate yourself by accessing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like Udemy, FutureLearn, Udacity, edX, and Coursera to identify free courses and certifications. Make the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (www.bls.gov/ooh) your guide as to hot industries and positions over the next decade. Remain curious. We’re on the cutting edge of something new, just on the cusp of IR4, with unimaginable opportunities ahead. Now is the time to reinvent yourself. Now is the time to prepare for your exciting future.
Special Note: An “Industrial Revolution” Historical Timeline
The First Industrial Revolution (IR1)
Hallmarks: Steam, Coal, and Mechanical Production Equipment
The original industrial revolution transformed the global economy from agriculture to industry. It used water and steam power to mechanize production. Coal extraction and the development of the steam engine as well as metal forging completely changed the way goods and products were created and exchanged in a world where “manufacturing” became a prominent driver of economic growth. New tools like the cotton gin (i.e., “engine”) totally disrupted and eliminated large swaths of weavers, for example, whose work until that time was done by hand. Canal transportation replaced covered wagons and mule teams and created the first models for today’s global supply chain distribution.
The Second Industrial Revolution (IR2)
Hallmarks: Division of labor, mass production, and electricity
If the first industrial revolution was driven by coal, the second revolved around the discovery of electricity, gas, and oil, culminating in the invention of the combustion engine. Both steel- and chemically-based products made their entry onto the world scene, and developments in communication technology produced the telegraph and later the telephone. Transportation grew by leaps and bounds with the invention of the airplane and automobile. Mechanical production grew exponentially through the advent of mass production.
The Third Industrial Revolution (IR3)
Hallmarks: IT, electronics, automated production, and the digital revolution
The third industrial revolution focused on the move from mechanical and analog electronic technology to digital electronics. This third wave of revolution used electronics and information technology to automate production. Semi-conductors, mainframe computing, microprocessors, renewable energy, personal computing, and the World Wide Web roared onto the scene, vastly increasing the potential and global reach of automated production.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4)
Hallmarks: Nano, bio, and IT technologies, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, and cyber-physical systems
Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is being built on its predecessors. The concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution was coined in 2016 by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, in a book of the same name. The advanced digital revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate, but this is where we find ourselves today and why this historical perspective is so important.