Today’s political rhetoric pins domestic job loss on unfair trade practices. Certainly trade is a tide that does not lift all boats. However, it’s estimated that only 13% of US manufacturing job loss is due to offshoring, whereas 87% of manufacturing job loss can be attributed to automation. From 2006 to 2013, US manufacturing output actually grew by 17.6% but fewer people are needed for production activities.

Despite extremely low rates of unemployment in first world nations (less than 4% in the US), people are still really worried about jobs. Manufacturing job loss due to automation is often viewed as the harbinger for what’s to come in other sectors of work.

Are robots coming for our jobs? Yes and no. Industries from education to healthcare to manufacturing will leverage automation to cut costs and in turn render certain tasks obsolete. However, the economy will evolve and create new jobs that will still require a human workforce. The key for the future is lifelong learning.

Thomas Friedman’s book, 'Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations' emphasizes just how workers can continue to survive (and succeed) in a world where technology evolves faster and faster according to Moore’s Law.

According to Friedman:

“We go to school for twelve or more years during our childhoods and early adulthoods, and then we’re done. But when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.”

What skills are employers looking for?

A recent article published by Upwork lists the fastest growing skillsets on its platform. They are as follows:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Google Cloud Platform
  3. Volusion
  4. Risk management
  5. Product photography
  6. Rapid prototyping
  7. Google App Engine API
  8. SCORM
  9. GitLab
  10. Go development
  11. Apple UIKit
  12. Enterprise architecture
  13. Tensorflow
  14. Atlassian Confluence
  15. Apple Xcode
  16. eLearning
  17. Customer retention
  18. Articulate storyline
  19. Node.js
  20. Scala development

While students and mid-career professionals alike can spend time learning these skills, there’s no telling what will top the list in 2025 or 2030 or even next year. The key is to maintain a growth mindset and always be willing to adapt.


Upwork ranks blockchain at the top of its 2018 list. Blockchain freelancers on the site charge between $47 and $200 an hour for their services.

Blockchain is the decentralized ledger comprised of computing nodes that was conceived in Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 Bitcoin whitepaper. If that sounds enigmatic, it is. Blockchains already exist today - without them cryptocurrencies couldn’t circulate.

The power of decentralized computing networks extend far beyond digital currencies. Leading companies, startups and governments are all experimenting with blockchain for its benefits in authentication, transparency and obsolescence of intermediaries.

Even if you don’t plan on learning how to develop blockchains, it’s important to at least learn about the technology conceptually as it will likely play a transformative role in whatever industry you work in.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is another way of saying storing and running data over the internet. According to Gartner, the cloud computing industry will reach $153.5 billion in revenue this year.

Microsoft, Amazon, Google and IBM lead the pack in providing cloud computing services globally. Cloud computing offers companies more flexibility, scalability and cost savings than housing data on premise in proprietary servers.

While operating in the cloud may appear seamless, cloud migration, cloud management and cloud computing all require technical acumen. The Gartner study predicts cloud computing revenue will double by 2021 as more companies move to the cloud and require services. The demand for work in this sector should follow suit.

Another primary motivation behind cloud migration is better business intelligence. The software as a service (SaaS) industry provides a plethora of innovative cloud-based business intelligence applications that companies can leverage to stay abreast in their markets at a relatively low cost. As such, those working in cloud computing will also likely intersect with data science.

Data science

According to a study by KPMG, UK CEOs identified data science as the most important workforce capability in 2018.

Data scientists will serve an integral role in the deployment of artificial intelligence in enterprise. The majority of CEOs surveyed (71%) also believe that AI will create more jobs than it will eliminate not just in data science but in customer facing and strategic roles as well.

Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses statistics, programming and scientific methods to derive insights from (big) data. For students, many universities now offer data science bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Universities (both online and traditional) also offer economical certifications in data science that professionals can flexibly complete while working.

Considering the level of demand for data scientists, many employers will likely sponsor employees to enroll in these certification programs.

The gig economy

The Upwork list contains mostly technical skills geared for the digital economy. However it also highlights skills that require creativity and emotional intelligence like graphic design and customer retention.

Risk management ranked fourth out of 20 illuminating the demand for workers that can help organizations navigate a world full of increasing uncertainties like cyber attacks and extreme weather.

In addition to specific skill sets, the Upwork list reveals the most pervasive economic trend in the future of work: the gig economy.

While widening wage gaps may force more workers to pick up 'gigs' such as driving for a ride sharing service in addition to a day job, many workers are choosing non traditional career paths for the sake of freedom, autonomy and personal fulfillment.

Freelancers may also gain a competitive edge in the economy of the future as they must continually develop their skills to offer customers services that commensurate with current market demand. In turn, participants in the gig economy may keep pace with the market better than their traditionally employed counterparts.

Retooling education

Economists coin today’s confluence of disruptive technologies as 'the fourth industrial revolution'. In this revolution forces such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and 5G will recharacterize the economic landscape.

However, humans don’t have to get left behind. These new conditions will just require more creativity and deeper engagement in learning for the entirety of one’s career.

Photo by Max Ostrozhinskiy on Unsplash.

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