February 24, 2024
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World Economic Forum: ‘Jobs of Tomorrow’

As soon as innovation comes upon us, two questions arise, and in this order: 1) Will it take my job? 2) Will it create jobs? Note: Fear of change precedes acceptance of change. Always.

It was that way when the cotton gin and the reaper changed agriculture in the 1790s, when fossil oil replaced whale oil to light our homes and streets in the 1860s, when automobiles replaced buggies and carriages in the 1890s, and when personal computers replaced all sorts of equipment in the 1980s. In every case, the playout was the same. Yes, individual jobs disappeared, but in the aggregate, vast amounts of new jobs—and industries—were created. It wasn’t even close.

It will be no different with artificial intelligence, and although we’re still in the nascent stages, the emergence of the pattern is as unmistakable as the appearance of Fingal’s Cave as the morning mist lifts in Felix Mendelssohn’s magnificent tone poem “Hebrides Overture.” However, the time lag between fear-driven questions and opportunity-motivated questions has shortened considerably, attributable, in my view, to the tech-savvy and tech-hungry generation that will most prominently embrace AI, which will dwarf all the others that have preceded it.

 

Trainers, Explainers, Sustainers

What better time, then, than now—as the 2024 World Economic Forum (WEF) just concluded in Davos, paying close attention to AI—to take an early look not at what AI will be doing, but at what AI is already doing to jobs. Says the WEF: Let’s start thinking about “trainers, explainers, sustainers.”

But first, a backdrop. The phenomenon of innovation eliminating old jobs and industries while spawning new ones was dubbed “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942. As we see, the phenomenon has been around much longer, but give Mr. Schumpeter credit for the sound bite. Anyway, creative destruction, we see, is more than inevitable; it’s necessary and good. That said…

 

Trainers

Trainers, says the WEF, “are the people developing AI: engineers and scientists working on the large language models (LLMs) on which generative AI tools such as ChatGPT depend.” Of note, development in AI is in the hands of more than just programmers; demand engineers, predicts the WEF’s Jobs of Tomorrow report. That fits in nicely with the CHIPS and Science Act that will begin growing America’s chip-producing capacity before this year is out. Other “trainer” jobs AI could create include systems administrators who are building server infrastructure. The list has just begun.

 

Explainers

While trainers are working behind the scenes, explainers will interact with end users, helping them understand and use AI. Explainers will design interfaces to enable smooth and seamless interaction with AI, and can be thought of as “user experience (UX) designers,” says the Forum.

Further, explainers could be tasked with making LLMs work with different kinds of user inputs: typed commands or spoken voice, for instance.

 

Sustainers

Sustainers will ensure that AI systems are used in the best way possible, a nebulous phrase until you break it down to its three functions. 1) Content creators will exercise prompt engineering, a new discipline that involves writing text prompts to make an LLM produce the content a user wants. 2) Data curators will be tasked with making sure LLMs have the best data going into them. “Data quality and integrity checks are critical, and will lead to the development of its own specialized workforce,” according to the Jobs of Tomorrow report. 3) Ethics and governance specialists will have the awesome responsibility of making sure LLMs do not act in biased, harmful or unethical ways, and will be hard at work testing before anything is released to the public. This could lead to the rise of AI safety and regulatory officers and ethicists.

 

And Beyond…

Many times over the last decade, I’ve declared that 25% of the jobs in America’s workforce in 2025 would be jobs that didn’t yet exist. A decade ago, I was basically dismissed. Five years ago, reactions were mixed. Today? Well, AI alone is responsible for so much of the change.

Now I just say, there it is, with more to come.


Eli Amdur has been providing individualized career and executive coaching, as well as corporate leadership advice since 1997. For 15 years he taught graduate leadership courses at FDU. He has been a regular writer for this and other publications since 2003. You can reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.

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