Robots and smart technology are set to significantly change the nature of the workplace, leading to fears of widespread job losses, but UPS’s David Lee says there’s an opportunity to create jobs designed to tap into human creativity.
Delivering a TED talk, Lee says while there is “valid concern” over the prospect of a jobless future, there are measures that we can take. Pointing to historical precedents of mass job extinction, he says that the current challenge is one of time.
“We had a hundred years to move from farms to factories, and then 60 years to fully build out a service economy,” he says.
“The rate of change today suggests that we may only have 10 or 15 years to adjust, and if we don’t react fast enough, that means by the time today’s elementary-school students are college-aged, we could be living in a world that’s robotic, largely unemployed and stuck in a kind of un-Great Depression.”
However, Lee believes that if steps are taken now “we can not only create environments where people love coming to work, but also generate the innovation that we need to replace the millions of jobs that will be lost to technology”.
“I believe that the key to preventing our jobless future is to rediscover what makes us human, and to create a new generation of human-centred jobs that allow us to unlock the hidden talents and passions that we carry with us every day,” he says.
Traditional perspectives of work involve narrow job definitions, based around singular tasks, and it’s these types of jobs that robots are set to replace first, Lee says. Jobs need to be created that are “less centred on the tasks that a person does and more focused on the skills that a person brings to work”.
While robots can take care of more singular tasks, Lee stresses the importance of encouraging human creativity.
“I believe that the jobs of the future will come from the minds of people who today we call analysts and specialists, but only if we give them the freedom and protection that they need to grow into becoming explorers and inventors,” he says.
“If we really want to robot-proof our jobs, we, as leaders, need to get out of the mindset of telling people what to do and instead start asking them what problems they’re inspired to solve and what talents they want to bring to work.”