The Future of Work: Defining the Challenge

By Chike Aguh Jr.

When we think about this future of work challenge, it is important that we define it precisely and practically.  For me, it is important to articulate the important but different sides of this challenge.  First, we have the challenge of jobs that may eventually be obviated entirely by technology.  There are many examples but one of the most visible is autonomous vehicles.  According to industry estimates, we will likely have autonomous vehicles on American roads en masse between 2030-2040 with the first disruptions likely happening in commercial trucking and public transportation.  Additionally, according to some estimates, this new technology will add $800-$1T of economic output to the US economy.  It also will obviate the most commonly held profession by an American man: driving a vehicle.  There are almost as many Americans driving a vehicle for a living as there are teachers in American public schools. 

There is a second half of the challenge which is spoken about all too rarely.  It is the challenge of the jobs that will still exist in the coming years but will be so radically changed by technology that the people who do that job now may not have the capacity to do it in the future.  The job that most encapsulates this is that of the loan officer.  Forty years ago, a loan officer’s job was to evaluate each borrower on a number of objective (and implicitly subjective ) criteria like loan need, previous financial history, etc.  Upon reviewing that criteria, that individual would make the decision about whether to approve that loan.  Today, that job is very different.  The decision about whether a loan is approved or not is not made by a human being but more likely by a machine.  Today, the job of the loan officer is much more about bringing potential borrowers in the door and keeping them happy so that they will make additional loans with the same institution in the future.  The question in this instance is: who is preparing those who were able to do the loan officer job before to being able to perform the job now?  Too often, there is not an answer.

Chike Aguh (Chee-Kay Ah-Goo) is a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and Venture Partner at New Markets Venture Partners. He holds degrees from Tufts University (B.A.), Harvard University (Ed.M; MPA), and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (MBA). He is a Fulbright Scholar, former Council of Foreign Relations term member and Presidential Leadership Scholar.

Chike Aguh
Chike Aguh writes about public policy and developments in US government