Why Millennials And Governments Must Prepare For The Industries
The world’s economy may look drastically different in the next 20 years. Industries being built today–from robot caregivers to digital money–are creating new jobs and opportunities. In his book, The Industries of the Future, innovation expert and former advisor to past Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Alec Ross, explains what the next industries will look like and how individuals and governments can be more competitive for them. I had the opportunity to read Ross’s book, already a #1 new release on Amazon, and interview him about what the future holds for my generation of millennials and the generations to come.
Ross’s book is about the next economy, and the promise and peril it may bring. After logging more than half a million miles as the senior advisor for innovation at the State Department and witnessing innovation across the globe, Ross decided to write a book for recent college graduates about the industries shaping the coming two decades.
When Ross graduated Northwestern University in 1994, he didn’t know about the fundamental changes the age of the Internet would bring to his career. The last wave of innovation and globalization with the Internet created wealth for individuals who caught on early, while people whose skills were outpaced by technological change found themselves jobless, replaced by machines. The future industries in this next wave of innovation—from robots and genomics to big data and cybersecurity—will provide the next set of jobs. Ross hopes that 20 and 30-year-olds, still early in their careers, will be able to take part in these industries before they miss out. At the same time, parents can arrange for their kids the interdisciplinary education they need for their future careers, and governments can change their approaches to education and labor to be prepared for these new industries.
Millennials are already shaping these future industries, and the next generations will scale them and influence the subsequent wave of innovation. While there will be new winners and wealth in the next economy, it will inevitably also leave many behind. As Ross writes, “We aren’t as easy to upgrade as software.” Our success at upgrading will be determined by changes to our education system and how we foster interdisciplinary leaders.
While entrepreneurs and visionaries are building these future industries, the federal government is not preparing its workforce to be competitive for jobs. Ross explains that vocational education in the U.S. has been largely unchanged in the past 60 years, while the Department of Labor and municipal labor departments are stuck in the industrial age instead of the information age. The government needs to move past the vestiges of previous decades, Ross says, because “the US is not going to be competitive from a cost of labor standpoint in the next stage of globalization in anything but knowledge-based jobs.”
What does this mean for blue-collar workers? As Ross discusses in his book, blue collar workers have had a tough 30 years since the last wave of innovation, and the trend line remains negative for them. Low-level white collar workers are also at risk of their work being replaced by machine learning and artificial intelligence. That’s where vocational training plays an important role, but even more so, Ross argues that it won’t be the strongest who survive, but the most adaptable to change in this Darwinian economy.
Given the trend towards machine-driven work and algorithms, some contend that humans most closely resembling robots will be the most competitive, but Ross doesn’t believe that’s the case. Instead, leaders in these industries will need a combination of hard and soft skills that blend technical understanding, communication, and socio-political context.
While Ross writes that his kids will have multilingual fluency—in both computer and foreign languages—those hard skills are only one stepping stone to success in these future industries. Leaders also need interdisciplinary skills and a “statesman geek” approach similar to that of Google GOOGL +2.47%’s Eric Schmidt, Ross says. Schmidt has a computer science background but excelled at helping Google grow into the behemoth it is today because of his skill in moving fluidly between the technical and non-technical sides of the company. Likewise, Ross argues that while the world recognizes Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as primarily a computer science wiz, it fails to acknowledge how Zuckerberg has “brilliantly” applied behavioral psychology to his work.
These interdisciplinary skills are critical because without a multi-faceted approach to building the industries of the future, new technology could simply perpetuate existing structural biases in society. Ross explains that today’s algorithms are inherently regressive based on past instead of future information, and this often reinforces biases. Imagine the growing number of big data programs serving functions like human resources. Ross warns that “algorithms are noiseless, so any bias its supports is much more difficult to detect than overt racism and prejudice in the past.”
This is why engineers can’t work in isolation, but instead in collaboration with psychologists, sociologists, and political economists to understand the broader societal implications of their work. While many of the experts Ross interviewed felt that “the distance between traditional liberal arts fields and the engineering field would begin to collapse,” the most successful leaders and companies in these industries will ensure this interdisciplinary perspective.
Ross is hopeful for the future these industries hold; now it’s time for more governments and millennials to join them.