It’s a brave new world, where cobots (collaborative robots), automation, artificial intelligence and globalization, among other factors, advances and shrinks our working world.
A new three-part PBS docuseries airing Wednesday at 10 p.m., “Future of Work,” explores the new normal, with a deep dive into the current state of work and its future. A fourth generation farmer talks about technology; a surgeon in the operating room works alongside a robot; a restaurant owner picks up the pandemic pieces by creating an all-inclusive labor model.
Explored with expert commentary and insight, “Future of Work” also includes a six-part series through PBS Digital Studios’ YouTube channel and a social series on the PBS IGTV channel.
The show was inspired by Studs Terkel’s best-selling 1974 book, “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” (Pantheon), which looked at the lives of manufacturing workers. Series creator and executive producer Denise Dilanni expanded this concept to industries and socioeconomic groups across the country. As the pandemic erupted during filming, the series’ original themes became even more pronounced.
“There were a couple things that were really clear that were going on pre-pandemic,” she said. “Work was being separated from a physical space. People were working remotely. There was an increased reliance on cobots and autonomous robots. We knew there were many questions about whether a college degree was the path to the future in terms of future-proofing your job.”
Dilanni’s team, including Llewellyn M. Smith, director and writer of the second episode, also interviewed people such as Diego Gerena-Quiñones, a lifelong New Yorker who began working for a messenger service in 2012. Facing unsteady pay and no health-care benefits, Gerena-Quiñones bought a fleet of cargo bikes to secure steady work for himself and his co-workers. Unfortunately, it came to a screeching halt during COVID-19, and Gerena-Quiñones ended up moving to Puerto Rico.
“We were blown away with how honest he was,” said Smith. “He was very frank about the psychological impact — depression, the fear about what was going to happen in terms of making money. He described that his whole world collapsed. He was riding high on the vision of having his own company.”
The candidness of the subjects, the expert commentary and reminders of past industrial revolutions make it must-see TV. You can’t help but think: Am I future-proofed? What skills do I need to learn? How can my career get ahead of artificial intelligence?
Ravin Jesuthasan, a self-proclaimed futurist, global thought leader and co-author of “Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work” (Harvard Business Review Press) featured in the series, recommended staying abreast of which industries and jobs are trending up versus trending down.
“There are always markers of what jobs are emerging, if we look hard enough,” he said. “Our planning horizon should not be a lifetime or even 15 years. It should be closer to five years. We need to have the mindset of continuous learning, so we can stay relevant.”
Jobs at risk of being automated include bookkeepers, underwriters, factory workers, paralegals, receptionists, data entry specialists and file clerks.
“We need to ask: ‘How can tasks that I do be done better?’” said Jesuthasan. “Where can automation or AI replace my work, augment my work to make me more productive, or transform the work and create new opportunities? It’s important to think about technical skills as well as human/enabling skills like creativity, critical thinking, innovation, empathy, communication.”
“It’s about what skills do you need, and then, how can you deploy them in other ways that are hopefully creative and make you, one would hope, indispensable?” said Jesuthasan.
Vivienne Ming, a scientist and entrepreneur featured in the series, said that whatever you do, rest assured somebody is trying to find a machine to do it instead.
Smith found it interesting to hear Ming talk about her employees feeling challenged by the uncertainty of their future.
“They know they’re not indispensable,” he said. “The opportunities are incredible, but so are the challenges and the fears. A lot of people who are going into college now, that’s not the world they are going to meet.”
Do we need to redefine the American dream?
“If you’re saying the American dream needs predictable progress and betterment beyond [that of] our parents, all of our advisors and a lot of research says that’s not the way it’s going to be for the vast majority of people,” said Smith. “It’s a matter of rethinking what we want to make of that so-called American dream. If it’s tied to predictable endless future progress generation after generation, year after year, no, that’s gone. That’s my opinion, anyway.”
Dilanni also looked at the so-called barbell economy — growth at the top with very specialized, highly paid skilled work and rapid expansion at the bottom with low paying, low skill jobs, while middle class jobs shrink.
“We have a very segmented society when it comes to work,” said Dilanni. “What we’re trying to do with the series is to let folks know that, and to really marry the changes in work: Logistical changes, global changes, labor practice changes. There are many different American dreams depending on where you land in this nation. Secure work, home ownership, sending your kids to school, letting your kids do better than you did economically — if that’s only available to 20 or 30 percent of the population, what is the implication of that?”
Dilanni recalled a writer who said that we get to decide what we want to do with all these work changes. “The conversation as a nation we want to have is about equity, about social justice. I hope that all the work we’re doing around all these platforms provokes that.”
Credit: Source link