Work may change, but empathy jobs will endure

Performance with Purpose


As part of our Performance with Purpose series The Australian’s, Robert Gottliebsen talks with Jamais Cascio of the Institute for the Future about technology’s impact on employment and why the future belongs to those who can “recontextualise”.

Jamais Cascio was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s top 100 Global Thinkers and is a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. He believes the interaction between people and machines will be the major driver of change over the next 50 years.

As part of The Australian’s Performance with Purpose series, exploring the values that will define leadership, I asked him what will be the big change in the nature of employment, and what values we will need to adapt.

Jamais Cascio: It’s a really interesting dilemma because it’s not just a technological issue of a robot coming in and taking over your workspace. It’s more complex.

The kinds of jobs that are the most difficult to replace with machines are the jobs that depend on empathy and human connection; things machines can’t do reliably and effectively. So it will be much simpler to replace a university professor with some online education system than it will be to replace a kindergarten teacher. It will be much easier to replace a surgeon than a nurse.

What’s important to know is that these are all jobs that have historically been performed by women — ‘‘pink collar’’ jobs. We haven’t given a lot of respect for them historically but these are the jobs that will persist. So as we have machines that will enable us to (be free from doing the) heavy work and algorithms for business, legal and medical work — we’re seeing this happen already — the jobs that last are the ones that are driven by empathy and human contact.

What happens to society when the dominant jobs are the ones that have historically been performed by women? Will they become the jobs that men do? Do they take on a new level of respect? There isn’t an obvious answer there.

Robert Gottliebsen: If you were educating your children or grandchildren, what would you tell them to do?

Jamais Cascio: Be as diverse and flexible as possible. Learn as many things as you can. Take multiple educational pathways in order to be able to cross-pollinate. Take what you’ve learned in the world in design and apply it to the world of healthcare, for instance.

What it comes down to is the ability to adapt quickly. The big issue we are facing over the course of the next 10, 20 years is the speed at which change is happening. It means the traditional methods of adaptation that we’ve had; retraining, reskilling, these things aren’t going to work that well anymore. You are much better off being able to recontextualise, see from a new perspective and try a different pathway.


Business Spectator columnist, The Australian 

This article first appeared in The Australian on 18 November 2015.

Perpetual is a proud partner of The Australian’s Performance with Purpose series.