In this, the final part of this blog series, I have repurposed and partially rewritten an excellent thought piece by Gavin Cotterill “Tomorrow’s jobs: the next Elon Musk is still in primary school” Contextualising with the Built Environment industries of Construction, Property and Facilities Management.
It’s a fact – jobs as we know them are changing and many ‘tried and true’ career paths will cease to exist as we enter the digital age. How do we prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist; using technology that hasn’t yet been invented; for problems that don’t exist yet?
The digital age is reshaping industries across the globe. How can we plan a future workforce when we don’t yet know what jobs they’ll perform? How can we develop talent when we don’t know what our businesses will need in a few months from now; not to mention years?
So what does this mean for the Built Environment industries?
While many have traditionally pursued the ‘safety’ of career paths such as ‘architect’, ‘engineer’, ’builder’ or ‘developer’, a clear move away from a number of traditional skills and trades will be needed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution demands new roles, new skills and will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. (Personally I am so sure of this that I have actively relinquished my career as an ‘architect’ – yet the Built Environment is vitally central to everything I do and will continue to do)
In tomorrow’s economy, your job title won’t be enough to keep you employed. The (successful) workers of tomorrow won’t be those who can recite force fed knowledge, but rather the problem-solvers; those with the ability to offer an alternative viewpoint to the ‘logical’ solution, and those who are curious enough to challenge yesterday’s solutions. Many architects today may conceive of themselves as problem-solvers, however the problems that need solving will not be resultant for clever use of form or a buildings aesthetic quality. Engineers would do well to realise the problems to be solved are about people and not buildings. Builders should realise that construction is only the problem it is today because of the industries own failings. And Developers? Well you will need to pay heed to more than shareholder value – because consumers will more than ever been determining your success or failure.
Tomorrow’s success will belong to the innovators.
Is Elon Musk an anomaly, or is it possible to instil in today’s generation the ingredients of success for a future that is as yet unwritten? Who will be the Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg of the Built Environment? If today’s new generation of professional are to be among the leaders and shapers, they will need to heed some key, counter-intuitive principles. And for those that went to university or a college, that will most probably mean undoing institutional dogma that has been driven into them…
Being clever simply won’t be good enough
Today’s generation of digital natives won’t only be required to understand data and technology; they’ll be required to collaborate and apply it in new and exciting ways. Understanding data and technological principles (how to assemble a building, how services work or ‘Smart’ buildings technologies) is one thing; designing machines that can self-learn (autonomous environments) and robots (self-learning devices that enhance environments for people) is quite another.
The employees of tomorrow won’t perform the same job over and over again; they’ll be expected to think and apply their knowledge. They will need to be taught how to be the interpreters and the translators between the digital world and the real world. Universities and colleges alike would do well to ensure the next generation of professional they are producing aren’t only taught the theory behind how things work, but given the mandate to utilise this theory to evolve and test their own assumptions. Being able to use BIM or fancy materials or construction technology is nothing special anymore. Neither will heroically solving problems that are entirely internal to the industry. Blaming others for your own failings will just not work anymore (not that it ever did).
The age of the expert is over (and actually has been for sometime)
Success tomorrow will depend on an insatiable desire to learn about new technologies and to apply them. The professional who understand this will be the early adopters of emergent technology, and will push the boundaries of applying it to their advantage and more significantly societies advantage. In tomorrow’s economy, there won’t be room for those who think ‘they’ve arrived’ and stalwarts will become ‘stale warts’ if they don’t push themselves and their skills to evolve.
The industry experts of today will tell you ‘the right way’ to do something, the specialists (of tomorrow) will know ‘the right thing to do’.
So, if you consider yourself an expert in anything – think again or quietly go extinct. Being a specialist is fine, just don’t limit yourself to the dead-end place that is the inevitable destiny of the expert. No longer what you know is the marker for success, rather the ability to seek and mine existing knowledge to co-create new on-demand and relevant knowledge.
The ‘good guys and gals’ will always win
This is my favourite aspect! In the past, climbing the corporate ladder didn’t necessarily take character; and quite often involved a degree of ruthless drive. In Property and Construction, the more tenaciously you could bully, the more successful you could be. That would mean ruthless self interest and utter disregard for colleagues. In design and engineering, this helped too, but really you needed to add to that a highly developed sense of pseudo-intellectual superiority.
No wonder today’s industry is so very male-centric…
But the truth is, we’re entering a future that will require collaborative behaviours to work in a data-driven world. Social networks have demonstrated the power of connecting people with open and free forms of communication. The online world and social media means reputations can be built (or destroyed) in seconds. Coupled to this, our concept of community has evolved to include online relationships that allow us to collaborate and share across physical and geographical boundaries. Tomorrow’s leaders will understand the power of good relationships, online and otherwise, as well as the power of leveraging these connections.
Transforming an industry and empowering a new generation of professional for jobs that don’t yet exist; using technology that hasn’t yet been invented isn’t as impossible as it sounds. What we must ensure is that we continue to update the principles we promote and reward and embrace the new attitudinal requirements of these new roles.
This matters to me…
Shaping the future, Whetstone, sharpening the cutting edge of the (new) Built Environment industry
Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.
To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.
In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanised form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotise” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.
I want to be part of a new Built Environment Industry that embodies this!