Enroll in a computer coding class while you still have the chance.

Despite 2015 falling short of Robert Zemeckis’ lofty predictions in “Back to the Future,” your childhood fantasies of a robot-dominated 2020 aren’t that outrageous after all.

According to The Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum, the imminent Fourth Industrial Revolution could eliminate a staggering 5.1 million jobs by the year 2020.

Cue the burger-flipping robots.

This so-called technological revolution will see advanced developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, the sharing economy and biotechnology, which will lay the groundwork for “a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen,” according to the report.

Reskill, Upskill or Drop Out

Although the shift to a tech-based economy is already well underway, we will continue to experience an industrial divide as STEM fields grow increasingly more lucrative and those susceptible to automation slowly become obsolete. These changes are exacerbated by broader systemic shifts within our workforce, including the move towards flexible work hours, mobile Internet technology and the role of Big Data.

For some industries, these market shifts have opened doors to creativity, innovation and endless economic opportunity, while others have seen unemployment and massive pay cuts.

"Call me crazy, but shouldn't our $100,000 college education do the 'reskilling and upskilling' for us?"

To avoid industry-wide talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing economic inequality, which the report describes as a realistic worst-case scenario, the authors recommend “reskilling and upskilling today’s workers…that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist these efforts.”

The possibility of a talent shortage gives a nod to the elephant in the room: Our ineffective higher education system. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t our $100,000 college education do the “reskilling and upskilling” for us? Instead, graduates are left with outdated diplomas that do little to prepare them for the future of our labor market (shout out to my fellow English majors).

Tech Isn’t an Equalizer After All

Given our existing gender disparities in the workplace, the tech revolution will affect male and female professionals differently.

As Mic’s Jack Smith IV points out, men should theoretically feel the sting of automation more than women, since the industries first on the chopping block are historically male-dominated fields (cars and construction, to name a few). Some female-dominated industries, like nursing, are in the clear.

On the flip side, male-dominated STEM fields are slated to continue taking over the labor market, while women continue to struggle to stake some territory in this lucrative field.

“The conclusion is clear,” says the report. “If current industry gender gap trends persist and labour market transformation towards new and emerging roles in computer, technology and engineering-related fields continues to outpace the rate at which women are currently entering those types of jobs, women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow’s best job opportunities while aggravating hiring processes for companies due to a restricted applicant pool and reducing the diversity dividend within the company.”

Our Take

While a robot-operated McDonald’s still seems like some sort of dystopian, sci-fi nightmare, the realities of the tech revolution are undeniable and only growing in influence. Despite all logic and reason, you can’t rely on your education to prepare you for those realities. We recommend educating yourself on the future of the work force and choosing your major wisely.


Posted 01.25.2016 - 06:08 pm EDT