If your job involves sitting in front of a screen all day, be prepared for a “big disruption coming”, says futurist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford.
Speaking to SmartCompany ahead of his appearance at the Creative Innovation 2016 Asia Pacific conference in Melbourne next month, Ford says the people wanting to know what sector will be next to be disrupted are “asking the wrong question”.
“It’s not about specific sectors, it’s about the nature of the work you’re doing. If you’re doing something predicable or routine, doing something encapsulated in the data, you’re at risk of being replaced,” Ford says.
Ford is the founder of a software firm and the author of several books, including Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. At Creative Innovation, he will be speaking about how rapidly evolving technology will continue to affect jobs and workplaces.
“Every industry will be impacted in some respect; we’re already seeing it happen with self-driving cars and fast food,” he says.
“If someone else could do your job from watching you do it there is potential for disruption,” he says.
Benefits for businesses
Despite at least some of Ford’s work addressing how technology will render some jobs obsolete, he believes small businesses and entrepreneurs can use technological advancement to their advantage.
“Small business and entrepreneurs will have access powerful tools out there to leverage their businesses. In the coming years it will be critical to understand something about these technologies, and to have an understanding of them enough to utilise them,” he says.
Ford sees rapid advancement in virtual reality and artificial intelligence but recognises this development could lead to fewer jobs in the long run.
“A lot of job creation comes from SMEs, but most new business started are now just one person,” he says.
“These days it’s more like self-employment, and it’s not going to create a lot of jobs for other people.”
Ford believes leveraging new technologies will be essential for businesses to keep up with competitors, claiming it’s about more than just cutting costs.
“There is a competitive imperative to leverage new technologies, to streamline businesses and make things more efficient. It’s not just about cutting costs,” Ford says.
“You will have to do it or you won’t be competitive, it’s that simple.”
Attend conferences and hire right
For businesses wanting to keep up with the latest trends to stay on top of the competition, Ford advises attending conferences and utilising online resources, warning these developments will only move “faster and faster”.
He believes there will be totally new industries emerging in coming years, ones no one will be able to predict.
“There will be new industries and new types of work. A website designer didn’t exist decades ago, and jobs like that will come into existence,” he says.
But the nature of work in these new industries will be fundamentally different, he says.
“Virtual reality, nanotech, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that [the industries] are not that labor intensive and they won’t create large numbers of jobs,” Ford says.
For businesses wanting to prepare for an unpredictable future, Ford believes the best thing to do is to hire versatile workers.
“There’s a strong argument for hiring strong adaptable individuals, you need people who will adapt,” he says.
“One problem we’re seeing in the US is that companies don’t want to invest in training for employees, [they] want to find people fully equipped for that job, which makes finding adaptable people a real problem.”
One thing Ford knows for certain is there’s a big disruption coming, even in sectors like journalism.
“Automation will have a big impact in financial services industries, and we’ll even see it in journalism. Already programs are cranking out stories,” he says.
“For anyone sitting in front of a computer, there’s a big disruption coming.”