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Ask Slashdot: Future-Proof Jobs? 509

An anonymous reader writes: My niece, who is graduating from high school, has asked me for some career advice. Since I work in data processing, my first thought was to recommend a degree course in computer science or computer engineering. However, after reading books by Jeremy Rifkin (The Third Industrial Revolution) and Ray Kurzweil (How to Create a Mind), I now wonder whether a career in information technology is actually better than, say, becoming a lawyer or a construction worker. While the two authors differ in their political persuasions (Rifkin is a Green leftist and Kurzweil is a Libertarian transhumanist), both foresee an increasingly automated future where most of humanity would become either jobless or underemployed by the middle of the century. While robots take over the production of consumer hardware, Big Data algorithms like the ones used by Google and IBM appear to be displacing even white collar tech workers. How long before the only ones left on the payroll are the few "rockstar" programmers and administrators needed to maintain the system? Besides politics and drug dealing, what jobs are really future-proof? Would it be better if my niece took a course in the Arts, since creativity is looking to be one of humanity's final frontiers against the inevitable Rise of the Machines?
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Ask Slashdot: Future-Proof Jobs?

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  • by Presto Vivace ( 882157 ) <marshall@prestovivace.biz> on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @02:49PM (#47459491) Homepage Journal
    but being a plumber or AC repair can't be shipped overseas.
  • by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @02:50PM (#47459513)
    Don't focus on specific jobs, focus on skills. Skills such as problem solving, understanding abstractions, and of course strong communication skills, both written and verbal. Skills involving dealing with and understanding people's needs will never go out of demand.
  • Re:Plumber (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @02:58PM (#47459607)
    2nd the above. Send her to a trade school. The nature of the work is local. It has some risk of automation but little risk of being offshored. As long as we need water plumbing will be needed. Electrician might be less future proof depending on advances in wireless power. Car repair will see some decline with electric cars. (they have less parts)
  • Caregiver... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Amtrak ( 2430376 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:01PM (#47459643)

    Seriously, I know it's all anti-fem movement and all that but someone has to take care of children might as well take care of your own.

    However, if having kids isn't your thing then you want to be somewhere in the robot design/maintenance track. So, something like Engineering or Computer Science would be best. Not everyone is good at math and abstract problem solving. Learn to do that really well and get some people skills and you should be able to stay at least marginally employed.

    Another option might be to join the Military. There will always be a need for Generals even if all the grunts are robots. Someone, has to tell squad A to attack point B, and I'm not convinced that the lowly soldier will ever really be replaced with robots. Someone will always fight once the robots are defeated.

    Also genetic engineering of crops might be a good thing to go into. We are going to need better yielding crops if we are going to support all the unemployed TV zombies the Robot's replace in the job market. Otherwise, someone might get the idea in their heads of limiting the population.

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:03PM (#47459677)
    Common dangers to your career and wages are:
    1. Outsourcing
    2. Automation
    3. Disruptive innovation
    4. Boom and bust economic cycles

    Ways to protect your career and wages are:
    1. Merit and Knowledge
    2. Restricted professions & credentials
    3. Union or government position

    Not all dangers are avoidable, for example disruptive innovation is all but unavoidable, but boom and bust cycles are easier to survive in a bigger industry.

    Not all way to protect career are available to everyone, for example merit and knowledge is unobtainable goal for significant portion of population (merit, by definition, it is zero-sum game). Additionally some have drawbacks - proximity to government or union usually has negative effect on one's maximum earning potential.

    Now for more practical advice - a technical profession that interfaces with government, requires accreditation, and deals with local or critical infrastructure would be most stable long-term position. Civil engineer, food inspector, dentist are some typical example.
  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Calavar ( 1587721 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:06PM (#47459715)

    Are you kidding me? You're planning your daughter's career based on predictions from Kurzweil and Rifken? They both have notoriously bad track records. Kurzweil is the guy who predicted that we'd have automatic translation for phones ten years ago. (He claims that his prediction held true because 2004 smart phones shipped with crappy text translation apps, but it is obvious from context that he originally meant real time voice-to-voice translation.)

    I have no doubt that much of what Kurzweil and Rifken predict will eventually happen, but their timelines are far too optimistic. IMO, the best advice you could give your daughter is to keep away from factory work (everyone will be replaced by robots relatively soon, even in China), law (far too many grads, far too few jobs -- you need to go to a top 10 school if you want any shot at a good job), and academia (same problem as law).

  • by alvieboy ( 61292 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:10PM (#47459761) Homepage

    I'd go even further and say: Teach her to learn, and she will adapt herself to every job on the Galaxy.

    But if eventually this if not feasible get her to focus on whatever she likes to do. Like Confucius once said: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

    We'll deal with the machines for her.


  • by AudioEfex ( 637163 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:10PM (#47459769)

    What does she want to do. It's fine if she doesn't know yet, too many kids are forced into a box too early, but those are the types of questions you should be asking her. What is she good at? What are her hobbies? There may be jobs she doesn't even know about that may relate to them that you can help her discover. Picking a profession is not something really that should be done on statistics/probability.

    That said, of course it's good to reign in certain things - there aren't a lot of jobs for underwater basket weavers. But, you could suggest offshoots of that - either a basic business degree to run her own shop, or something in textiles/manufacturing. But it's always best to go with what she likes and/or is good at as a starting place - vs. figuring out what has the least amount of risk and going for it no matter what the profession is.

    This is where those "aptitude" tests that you take in high school might be helpful. I'm sure there are equivalents online, or her school might still offer them. I'd never use them as a sole resource, but they can help you find things that may not be obvious. In high school one of the careers that mine said was "law enforcement" which at the time I laughed at - yet now, in my mid-30's - I suddenly found myself working in a different field in the private sector, but as a financial investigator. Something to those tests, I think.

  • by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:17PM (#47459847)

    Skills become obsolete or can be automated. If you rely on skills you have to dedicate yourself to a lifetime of learning.

    While I could have been more clear in my subject line, I did hint at the kinds of skills I meant in my comment text. I wasn't referring to specific technical skills, but rather more generic, high level skills -- sometimes referred to by recruiters as "soft skills". While specific technical skills (such as a programming in a specific language, brick laying, or buggy whip manufacturing) may come and go, high level or abstract skills (such as communication and problem solving), will never fall out of need.

  • Capitalist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:20PM (#47459869) Journal

    We all know eventually the only ones profiting will be those who own the robots. So become a capitalist. Take that money she was going to spend on a college education and start a business instead. A few rules, though:

    1) It must not be something other people do for free for fun. Don't become a photographer.
    2) It must be something where eventually other people do the work while you make the money. Don't become a freelancer.
    3) It must be scalable. That is, adding workers/locations/production increases profits. This is similar to "don't be a freelancer," as there are only so many hours in your day.
    4) When you're finished, you can sell the business to somebody else. That is, it must be a business that accumulates assets, rather than just service contracts.

    Good luck.

  • Re:Simple (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:23PM (#47459913)

    Tell her to study home economics.

    Ok, I'm sure dude here was trying to troll and all... but...

    Any kid strait out of highschool needs, desperately, to have true home economics down. And I don't mean cooking.

    Never own a credit card. They are all scams and are far more likely to ruin your credit than help it.
    The basics of double entry bookkeeping.
    The basics of Auto loans and home loans
    The difference between Mutual Funds and Index funds and why you should always go with an index if you can.
    What a fiduciary is, and why you should never take investment advice from someone that you don't have a contract with.
    The difference between a 401k and a Roth IRA, and why you need both and why paying off your house before retirement is bad.
    You should be investing at least 10% of your income into retirement. Really, 10%.
    In the vast majority of cases you will get paid the same if you get your degree from a tech school, where your tuition will total under $10k as you would from a state or private college where you're going to pay that much per semester! (i.e. go to a tech school unless you want to be a doctor)

    I came from a very poor family. My parents pulled themselves up through hard work. They didn't know a lot of that stuff, I had to go out in the world and learn it on my own. But I see a LOT of kids come out of school and just have no clue. They get financially ruined by scam artists as soon as they walk off the stage at HS graduation. They go to a state university to get a nursing degree when hospitals are so desperate for nurses they're actually paying dental assistants to go to school in my local area!

    It doesn't have to be that way. Educate your kids on this stuff. If you don't get it all yet, go with them. My life completely turned around when I took some pretty simple 1 week courses at the local community college.

  • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:24PM (#47459919)

    If people like Kurzweil are right is the fact that planning for them is worthless. Kurzweil's predictions are, by definition, that the future is unpredictable due to rapid technological development. What on earth makes you think construction workers will have a job if Kurzweil's predictions were to come to fruition? Or Plumbers? Or even painters, actors, poets for that matter? In Kurzweil's future, you could have software that understands the human brain far, far better than we do today and could apply that knowledge to generate works of art of such sublime beauty that we'll look at Michelangelo's works like a toddler's scribbles (beautiful for what they are but ultimately primitive).

    There's no point in planning for that future because that future is so far removed from where we are today that it's not yet imaginable how we, as fleshy, living, breathing human beings, will fit into it.

  • Re:Engineering (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:37PM (#47460065) Homepage
    This is key. Engineering, computer science (actually, CS was part or the engineering faculty at my university), and other applied science disciplines are flooded with graduates who have no interest in the subject matter and only did the work required to pass the courses. There's so many computer science graduates out there who can't program that it's depressing.
  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:39PM (#47460095)

    Suggesting she become a homemaker despite her explicit request for career information and knowing nothing about her other than her gender -- yes, almost certainly misogyny.

  • MBA/PHB/VP (Score:4, Insightful)

    by turgid ( 580780 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:40PM (#47460111) Journal

    Train for Management, Business Administration and Making Tough Decisions(TM). There is no way that our corporate masters are going to outsource/offshore/automate their own cushy positions or let the great unwashed get their hands on the robots producing the goods.

  • Re:Engineering (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:58PM (#47460291)

    Then the people who can design an effective irrigation system within cost constraints are in high demand.

  • Life Lottery (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phizi0n ( 1237812 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @04:04PM (#47460367)

    Tell her to do what she enjoys for as long as she can because life is a lottery and you can't predict how it will turn out.

  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by melchoir55 ( 218842 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @04:05PM (#47460373)

    Tell her to study home economics.

    Never own a credit card. They are all scams and are far more likely to ruin your credit than help it. .

    This is terrible advice. Credit cards are the easiest way to build credit. The advice should actually be: Pay off your credit card in full every month. If you won't be able to pay it off, don't buy things with it.

    The rebuttal: "This is too hard for some people" is not a reasonable response to this. This is a trivially easy behavior pattern to adopt. If you can't do this, I don't believe it is possible to be financially secure. This is the smallest, easiest, step in playing the game of our society's financial system.

  • by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @04:15PM (#47460515)
    What does she LOVE to do?
  • Re:Plumber (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lakeland ( 218447 ) <lakeland@acm.org> on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @04:36PM (#47460845) Homepage

    Computers _are_ replacing accountants. Or more precisely computers are replacing bookkeepers and a lot of so called accountants are actually bookkeepers.

    Most of the drudgery is leaving the profession now. What's left will be much more interesting and valuable work, but I suspect there will be a bit of a glut in lower end accountants.

  • by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @05:02PM (#47461161)
    healthcare is going to be offshored. Countries are gearing up for healthcare tourism. You hop on a plane go to a spa and get several procedures done cheap. Once insurance companies get on board you will have no choice in the matter. You will get your choice of doctors from a list outside the country.
  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SillyHamster ( 538384 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @05:27PM (#47461471)

    Suggesting she become a homemaker despite her explicit request for career information and knowing nothing about her other than her gender -- yes, almost certainly misogyny.

    Homemaker is a career, and it does take certain skillsets that are developed over a lifetime. It's an important career chosen by many women throughout history. Consider what happens if the next generation is not nurtured and educated.

    And it is a future proof job - can't outsource child making and rearing, and she has capabilities unique to her sex. (eg: half the potential competition of other career paths) Kids are also an effective retirement plan when raised well.

    Even if you don't think it's the best option, it's a valid option, and a noble one.

  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @06:07PM (#47461839) Journal

    There's currently a serious glut of lawyers in the US market, and not just in LA and NYC. Sure, graduates from Harvard Law and its peers are going to have an advantage, doing high-end corporate law, but news articles I've been reading recently say that for average-quality law students at average-quality law schools, some ridiculous amount like 1/3 don't have a real law job within a year out of school, and the pay scales don't match the level of student-loan dent they have to pay off for most of them. A lot of the entry-level jobs are things like public defenders (get paid dirt, heavy case loads), or small-town business/real-estate (plumbers get paid better.)

    And farming? Are you kidding? Americans may have a warm place in their hearts for farmers, especially if their grandparents farmed, but their grandparents got their butts off the farm and moved to the city for good reasons. And that was before mechanized agriculture radically changed the number of farm workers it took to grow food, and pushed us toward monoculture agribusiness that needs maybe 3% of the US population to grow most of the food, and most of the farm labor is low-paid migrant work. If you inherit some land or are willing to move to a dying town out on the prairie, sometimes you can make it pay off, or and there are some places you can do specialized-market farming and do ok at it, but it's tough work that won't put your kids through college.

    Corrections? Yes, the US has far more prisoners per capita than China or even Soviet Russia used to, and until we end the drug war and have some time for its spin-off crimes like the gang business to die down, it'll probably stay big business for another few decades, but most of the work is morally about one step above being a slave-owner and financially it's two steps above minimum wage, competing with a labor pool of people who need a job that doesn't require an education, just a mostly-clean criminal record and adequate citizenship papers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @06:55PM (#47462241)

    Common dangers to your career and wages are:
      1. Outsourcing
      2. Automation
      3. Disruptive innovation
      4. Boom and bust economic cycles

    The biggest danger to your career and wages are:

    1. Corporate greed
    2. "Free markets" (where money and capital are free but you're not, of course)
    3. Lowering and eliminating of tariffs, resulting in race to the bottom wages
    4. "Right to work" laws

    Had to get those in there too.

  • Re:Plumber (Score:4, Insightful)

    by complete loony ( 663508 ) <Jeremy@Lakeman.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @09:25PM (#47463189)
    First we need to revolt against the ridiculously wealthy and send them all to the guillotine. After that it will still take a generation to sort out the mess, less if we can find the right people to re-design a working financial system.
  • Re:Plumber (Score:4, Insightful)

    by complete loony ( 663508 ) <Jeremy@Lakeman.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @09:27PM (#47463201)
    And when the power fails, you'll have one more thing to worry about. No thank you. I prefer my basic services to be basic.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl