We can’t talk about the future of work without considering the worker of the future. Who will that worker be? What kinds of skills will she or he need to thrive in an era of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation? And how will companies find, recruit, and train the workers they will need to compete in the 21st century and beyond?

These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring in the next Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs (CHILL) event, where a cross-section of industry leaders—previous labs have included the likes of GE, Intel, and Visa—will come together to work shoulder-to-shoulder to help shape the future of work.

There’s no doubt that emerging technologies will dramatically change work as we know it. We’re just not sure what all the ripple effects might be. A McKinsey study showed that 45 percent of individual work activities could be automated using existing technologies. That doesn’t mean that 45 percent of jobs are going away, just that some elements of most jobs could be automated—including up to a third of a CEO’s job activities. Imagine the strategic work a CEO could do with an extra two or three hours a day!

Some jobs are certainly more susceptible to automation than others—the  potential for disruption looms  especially  large in accommodation and food service, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, warehousing, and  even retail. Like other inflection points, technology will create new opportunities for workers even as it eliminates some traditional jobs.

Look back 100 years. The widespread adoption of automotive technology killed jobs for blacksmiths and carriage drivers, but lifted millions of people into the middle class with new, well-paying jobs as autoworkers, mechanics, and truck drivers. Now think back just 30 years. The World Wide Web did not exist. Nor did Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber, or Tesla. The entire technology landscape has changed since then, transforming job requirements and creating amazing new opportunities.

So, what will the new opportunities for the worker of the future be? More and more, they will be in science, technology, engineering, and math. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, jobs in STEM occupations in the United States will grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024—faster than the average of all occupations.

As manufacturing, mining, construction, and other blue-collar jobs lose ground to automation, many people see technical jobs filling the gap. In fact, a recent article in Wired wondered if coding could be “the next big blue-collar job… the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant.”

The big question is how to train these workers with the skills they’ll need for 21st century jobs. It’s a question ripe for innovation.  For example, LRNG is a startup we met during our CHILL Future of Work Learning Journey. LRNG is focused on using digital learning to transform underserved communities. It challenges teaching teams to go “beyond bells and walls” to reimagine learning experiences that engage and inspire—and rewards the best ideas in its annual Innovators Challenge.

Many of the workers who will fill the new “blue collar” technical jobs won’t come through the traditional route of four-year colleges and universities. As I alluded to in my last visual blog, many of the technical workers of the future will come through community colleges, apprenticeships, and other non-traditional training programs. Some tech companies are now partnering with community colleges to combine classroom learning with real-world apprenticeships in areas where the companies need more skilled workers. Other organizations are looking to engage younger students to put them on a path to technical competency. Code TN is a Tennessee-based nonprofit that brings together schools and developers to teach high school students how to code. The program gives kids from all backgrounds hands-on experience in software development and gives them the satisfaction of creating their own apps. And it goes beyond technical skills to expose them to the creative, collaborative thinking they’ll need in the new world of work.

The possibilities for innovation are boundless. The CHILL team is currently assembling a cohort of leading companies to create industry-shifting disruptive innovation around the future of work—and the worker of the future.

What do you think? Would you like to be part of designing the future? Let’s talk. Join the conversation on Twitter @katecokeeffe to get started.



Kate O'Keeffe

Senior Director

Customer and Partner Innovation