August 28, 2014

As summer vacations end and new college grads pour into the workforce, jobs – even in fields that were once a sure bet – have shifted beneath employees’ feet.

White Collar Jobs - Automated Out of Existence?

Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are fundamentally changing all jobs, not just those in manufacturing, according to Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, authors of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies.

While nursing requires interpersonal and physical skills that can’t be trusted to robots just yet, McAfee says that doctors may not be so lucky. “IBM did not just build Watson to play Jeopardy, and one of the things they’ve done since is send Watson to medical school.”

But automating these jobs may not have a negative impact on us. Once workers have more free time, “we’re going to be kicking back and enjoying the fruits and the benefits of this automated economy and the stuff that it generates,” says McAfee.

Without the Right Workers, American Industries Could Vanish

Robots may be permeating high-skill fields, but there are still millions of good jobs available, say Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School and Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center.

The problem is that the American education system leaves graduates unprepared to fill them. In order to save these jobs, “we have to create a system that works with IBM, community colleges, state governments who come together and try to create a very applied training system and curriculum,” says Reynolds.

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Went to College

But isn’t a diploma from an exclusive school still a ticket to success? Not anymore, says Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.

Employees have to become “relentlessly entrepreneurial” because an employer “doesn’t care whether you got your BA from Matchbox U, Minnesota, MIT, or a MOOC. He will only pay for what you can do with what you know.”

Cut Down Your Work Week

And it’s not just workers who need to reinvent themselves. Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, says that companies and managers need to rethink the status quo – from offering four-day work weeks to letting employees work from home.

“If you think the only way to figure out if someone’s working is by watching them work, then you’re probably not managing properly. You need to look at the output of the work, not the sitting at a desk all day.”

Marissa Mayer Says Balance Isn’t Always Good

Another CEO, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, says that it’s all about finding a rhythm – even if that means 100-hour weeks – if you believe in what you’re doing. “Balance is a dangerous word,” says Mayer. “I think that sometimes people do their best work when they’re somewhat out of balance.”

Forget the Raise?

At least jobs still promise a paycheck, although most people wish they got paid more. Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, argue that when it comes to money, more is not always better.

Research shows that experiential purchases, like trips with friends, make people happier, not iPads, shoes, or televisions. This may seem counterintuitive, but the human brain has a surprising way of enhancing memories from past experiences. “My closet doesn’t make my clothes any nicer over time, but my mind can make those memories better,” Dunn says.

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