Jan 22, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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1 big thing: A surge in jobs of the future
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Reproduced from a Cognizant chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. job market is brushing up against its best performance in a half-century, but certain occupations are in greater demand than most — those involving new or particularly human-led skills that seem least subject to automation.

  • In its latest quarterly index, provided first to Axios, Cognizant reports that “jobs of the future” — occupations like cyber calamity forecaster, career counselor and solar engineer — jumped 68% in 2018, vastly outperforming the market as a whole.
  • By comparison, the 2.6 million jobs created last year by the sizzling economy overall were only a 1.5% addition to the U.S. labor force.

Why it matters: The juxtaposition is not entirely fair, as the index involves only a fraction of the 163 million-strong U.S. labor force. Yet the result suggests that a broad sampling of future-pointing skills — and not just jobs like software engineering — is enjoying takeoff after struggling unevenly until now.

The big question: The index is made up of 50 jobs that have both a traditional and a digital component. It attempts to nibble at one of the most consequential questions of our age: What will happen with jobs in the new age of automation and artificial intelligence?

  • Future-of-work forecasts usually veer between wild extremes: On one side are predictions of a jobs wipeout, with humans left in low-paying work, if they can find work at all; on the other are more benign outlooks foreseeing the creation of sufficient jobs for everyone.
  • At minimum, the index suggests that we are on our way to finding out.

How it has worked thus far: All 50 jobs are indexed to the third quarter of 2016 (starting at 1.0). The index was negative before 2018: By the fourth quarter of 2017, “master of edge computing” was down to 0.82, “transportation supervisor” had fallen to 0.50 and “fashion designer” to 0.71.

  • But a year later, they were at 1.37, 1.21 and 2.68, respectively (fashion designer was the fastest-growing job of 2018, jumping 279%).
  • “Our view is that the unleashing of ‘animal spirits’ — post Trump tax cuts — caused a surge in hiring across the board, e.g., jobs of the future and all jobs writ large,” said Benjamin Pring, head of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work unit, who conceived the index.

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, the freelance jobs site, said it’s no surprise that digital jobs are growing so fast. Upwork produces its own index, which tracks skills commanding the fastest-growing demand. He said particular skills are suddenly in great demand — for example, how to handle new software — but that the jobs dry up relatively quickly.

  • "Which is why some economists say that the half life of a skill is now five years and trending down (meaning, for such skills, knowing them in five years will only be half as valuable as knowing them today)," Kasriel said in an email exchange.
  • Examples of the skills in demand include engineers who could work with genetic algorithms, along with Kubernetes, a software platform, and Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system.
2. The huge cost of reskilling

Making control units for tanks and airplanes in 1943. Photo: FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty

The U.S. government and private companies will need to pay $34 billion to reskill 1.4 million workers who may lose their jobs to automation in the coming years, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.

Yes, but: Most of that cost will have to be covered by the government because only about 25% of it will be cost-efficient for business, Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum, told Axios.

What's happening: The World Economic Forum, meeting this week in Davos, Switzerland, sought to put a dollar amount on the fundamental reskilling of the workforce that will be necessary against a huge wave of automation presumed to be on its way.

  • The 1.4 million displaced workers due to robotization, an estimate originally from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is a fraction of what prior major forecasts estimated, including Oxford University and the McKinsey Global Institute.
  • Zahidi says that if the larger estimates are right, the cost of reskilling will be that much higher.
  • Many of those to be displaced will have to learn entirely different occupations, according to the report.

The report also said that 18% of those displaced, or 252,000 people, will not be reskillable economically, so the government will have to step in with public assistance.

3. A $13,000 pay gap

Photo: Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Some female Oracle employees were allegedly paid around $13,000 less per year than male employees doing similar jobs.

Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes: That's the result of an analysis included in a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of women who are accusing Oracle of gender bias, Wired reports.

  • According to the study's author, a UC Irvine economist, there is less than a 1-in-a-billion probability that the pay gap arose by chance.
  • The analysis found that the pay disparity — 3.8% — paled in comparison to the gender gap in bonuses (13.2%) and stock awards (33.1%).
I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
— Plaintiff Marilyn Clark to The Guardian, on discovering a male colleague's salary
4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

How Huawei wooed Europe (Adam Satariano, Raymond Zhong — NYT)

A shaky economic outlook for China (Courtenay Brown — Axios)

Why Uber wants to build self-driving scooters (Timothy Lee — Ars Technica)

Micropayments were a promise of the early web (Zeynep Tufekci — Wired)

Why are Indian farmers angry? (The Economist)

5. 1 unscientific thing: Made-up methods to dodge the common cold

Aaaachoo! Photo: Getty

Don't go outside with wet hair, and drink lots of orange juice. These are preventative measures against the common cold that American parents have been telling their kids for decades — but none of them are supported by science, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.

  • Nearly 70% of U.S. parents say they try to keep their children safe from the cold in part by employing unscientific tactics, according to a nationally representative survey administered by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and reported by Quartz.

Why it matters: The common cold costs the U.S. $40 billion per year in medical costs and the indirect toll of missed work hours, per Quartz. Compare that to the $10 billion cost of the flu.

The good news: Almost all parents surveyed said they tell their kids to avoid sick classmates and wash their hands regularly — two habits that are indeed proven to prevent catching the cold.

Bryan Walsh