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Jobs of the Future
People Skills Will Matter More in Post-Industrial Economy

The 20th-century industrial economy, like the agrarian economy that preceded it, put a premium on physical strength. As we transition from an industrial economy to an information economy, many commentators have noted that braun is on its way out and brains are on their way in (exit assembly-line workers, enter computer engineers).

But a third skill-set is often neglected in such discussions: Social savviness. And according to a new report from the Pew Research Center, this quality will be increasingly important in the post-industrial labor market:

The differences in projected growth were … more pronounced when looking at social skills, which Pew Research Center defines as encompassing interpersonal skills, written and spoken communication skills, and management or leadership skills. Employment in occupations that require average to above-average levels of such social skills is projected to grow by 8.1%, versus just 4.4% growth for occupations requiring below-average levels of those skills.

The archetypal working or middle-class occupation in the agricultural era might have been a small farmer. In the industrial age, it was a factory laborer. In the 21st century economy, however, automation is eating into occupational categories that require the performance of routine tasks. A growing share of the labor market will need to be filled by workers who either possess high-enough levels of analytical skills to remain ahead of the machines, or who can provide services that require interpersonal relationships and a human touch that robots can’t replicate. Think of home-health aides, swimming instructors, or masseuses.

The transition away from an industrial economy is generating social anxiety and political unrest, and understandably so—the new economy will likely provide less security and predictability than the economy that came before. But there will also be new opportunities and sources of fulfillment. The type of worker who in the 1950s turned a screw on an assembly line for his entire career might in 2050 be working at a retirement home, getting paid for his ability to relate to others and form relationships rather than performing menial tasks. Even in an age of automation, there will always be a demand for services delivered by real human beings.

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  • WigWag

    “As we transition from an industrial economy to an information economy, many commentators have noted that braun is on its way out and brains are on their way in (exit assembly-line workers, enter computer engineers).” (Via Meadia)

    I have no doubt that brawn is on the way out but I’m not exactly sure who “braun” is.

    This essay highlights a pending disaster for not only working class Americans but for all Americans, especially American men. Just as men, on average are better at certain skills like mathematics, there is no question that women on average are superior to men in social skills, especially language. That’s simply the way that nature built us.

    Just as there are millions of men and women who will never be equipped to go to college, there are millions of Americans, especially men, who will never be equipped to excel at jobs where social skills are a key ingredient for success. The trend that Via Meadia is pointing out is real enough, but it also means that the American underclass is likely to grow as high paying jobs for the socially inflexible become increasingly scarce.

    Our country is not going to thrive when tens of millions of Americans are essentially unemployable. The solution proposed by our elites; better educational opportunities is no solution at all. It is simply baked into the biologic cake that tens of millions of workers will never be glad-handers or thinkers of complex intellectual thoughts. The disdain that many highly educated people have of their less educated brethren is repulsive. There is no virtue in being innately very intelligent thus as there is no virtue in being highly educated. Less educated and innately intelligent people are every bit as moral, kind and worthwhile as people with higher academic achievement.

    We are on the verge of dumping tens of millions of Americans on the trash heap of history. Those highly educated and highly intelligent people who think that they won’t inherit a lot of the consequences of this reality may just be a lot dumber than they look.

    • Anthony

      Well said and thanks.

    • JR

      I’m one of those highly educated people (highly intelligent is a whole other matter) and the problem is that robots are coming and they will make tens of millions of Americans unemployable. It is happening already (manufacturing output up, manufacturing employment down) and will continue to do so. I think we will have to go basic income route if we are to avoid large scale social unrest. But I could be totally wrong about all of this. Predicting the future is not my strong suite, otherwise I would be typing this from my own private island in the Bahamas.

      • WigWag

        The robots are coming, the robots are coming; yes it’s true. They’ve been coming ever since John Henry, who was black, by the way (driving steel nails into rock was one of the few good paying jobs open to blacks in those days), challenged the steam hammer to a race. Of course, John Henry won the race, but the owners of the steam driven hammer had the last laugh.

        Just because automation is eliminating jobs doesn’t mean we have to accelerate the process by welcoming immigrants who drive down wages or export jobs because of phony-baloney free trade agreements as Mrs. Clinton plans to do at the behest of her Wall Street benefactors.

        No one can predict the future, but there are some educated guesses that we can make. In this essay, Via Meadia points out that excellent social skills are increasingly important for the jobs of the future. What is frequently missed is that social skills are not merely learned; they are biologically determined.

        There are numerous neurological disorders that impair social skills including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Tourette’s, ADHD and others. Most of these disorders are far more common in males than females; autism and Aspergers are four times more common in males than females.

        The evidence is now convincing if not overwhelming that a major risk factor for these diseases is increasing parental age especially paternal age. There is also reasonably strong evidence that increasing paternal age is negatively correlated with IQ in male offspring. See,

        After thousands of years of human history, we are now conducting a massive and frightening experiment in child rearing. In the past three decades, the average age when American parents have their first children has increased from the early 20s to the early 30s an increase of almost ten years.

        Based on the data, we should expect to see an increase of disorders associated with poor socialization, anxiety, poor communication skills and lower IQs. Guess what, that’s exactly what we are seeing, especially in males.

        Obviously this doesn’t bode well for males, who if this essay is right, will need improving social and intellectual skills if they are to be employable.

        To make matters worse, it is possible, but there is little evidence for it so far, that increasing paternal age reduces sociability and intelligence in male offspring even if the offspring are not afflicted with the disorders mentioned above. These are all spectrum disorders which means there may be preclinical manifestations which are troubling but don’t quite rise to the level of clinical disease.

        At the same time that greater social skills and intelligence may be required for the good jobs, our society is dumbing down the gene pool (to use a colloquialism) especially for males.

        Anyone who thinks this is likely to end well is mistaken.

        • JR

          I’m not saying it will end well. Government exists to blunt the brutal forces that batter us. These unsociable males still need to eat. Guaranteed basic income seems a good tool.

          • three_chord_sloth

            Basic income is just welfare by another name, and pretty much all of history shows that kids who grow up in welfare homes rarely leave the underclass. As do all of their descendants as well. We’re basically sentencing these families to squalid lives and eighth grade educations — forever. At least until the Eloi get tired of supporting them…

          • M Snow

            Instead, how about shortening the work week and adding lots more federal holidays, essentially a job sharing approach? It would have the added advantage of stimulating the leisure industry. This is not a full solution to the problem, of course, but every little bit helps.

    • Boritz
    • solstice

      WigWag, in your comments, you often castigate the educated elites of Western nations and praise the less-educated working class members of these societies. Has it ever occurred to you that, if the same working class people whom you champion had been born instead into insular, privileged communities and sent to prestigious educational institutions, they would be behaving in the exact same contemptuous, arrogant manner as our current elites? The behavior of all people–not just those with autism, Asperger’s and ADHD–is determined by biology and environment, and human nature is not more benign among the working class than it is among the elites. The working class has its own repulsive prejudices, and no small number of them despise those who are more educated and privileged merely for being more educated and privileged.

      In your eagerness to blame the elites for the ills that currently afflict the modern West, you neglect to mention and seem oblivious to the fact that these ills are the direct and inevitable consequence of modernity and scientific and technological progress. In modern societies, it is an economic burden rather than an economic asset for people to have children. In modern societies, it is logical for people to postpone marriage and start families at a later age. In modern societies, the less educated and technologically adept will inevitably suffer, no matter who is in charge and what kind of economic systems and agreements are in place. If you want a world with universal employment and no predator political classes, you should advocate for hunter-gatherism:

      • WigWag

        I disagree with much of what you’ve said here, solstice but I do agree with one thing; if the positions were reversed and our elites were the rabble and the rabble were the elites things might just look a lot like they do now; of course, we will never know.

        There have always been elites and there always will be; societies have been stratifying themselves since the before the beginning of recorded history; that’s not likely to change ever. In large part, this social stratification is baked in the cake; the vast majority of species stratify in this way hence the term “pecking order.”

        My argument is that contemporary elites are more dastardly, dangerous and disingenuous than at any time in recent American history though if one looks at the entire historical record things in the more distant past were obviously far worse. There was a time in the not so distant past when elites who committed our country to war had their children risk their lives in those wars right along side children from ordinary families. It doesn’t work that way any more; its now the elites who bungle us in to wars and the children of working people who fight, die or have their limbs blown off.

        The United States is a nation of immigrants; it always has been. Previous generations of immigrants never demanded to have their children educated in the language of the nations they had left behind and they never demanded to vote or have government conduct business in their native languages. These demands are very common amongst immigrants from Mexico and Latin America and they are supported by academic, government and business elites alike. When previous generations of immigrants moved to America they didn’t expect a generous social safety net to cushion them. This safety net is paid for largely by state and local taxes and the costs often fall on struggling working people not to mention that supporting the safety net for immigrants diverts funds from other important needs. Our current generation of elites is happy to advocate expanding that social safety net at the same time that the economic prospects of many working people are collapsing.

        The prospects of those working people are collapsing for many reasons; some of them unavoidable. But there’s simply no denying that the neoliberal economic policies which became wildly popular in elite circles during the presidency of Bill Clinton have run through working class communities like a buzz saw. These policies were mostly authored by the paradigmatic member of our elite class, Robert Rubin, who was Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs. Bill and Hillary have been genuflecting to Goldman Sachs and their hedge fund honeys ever since. Millions of manufacturing jobs were lost because of NAFTA, millions more will be lost if the TPP is ever enacted. These trade bills are not necessarily bad for the American economy; they allow elites to stuff even more money into their already overflowing pockets. But they are terrible for working class people who are watching their jobs shipped off to foreign countries, especially Mexico and China. Put yourself in their place. Where does the assembly line worker who used to make air conditioners at the Indiana Carrier plant go now that NAFTA has motivated his employer to move his job to Mexico? You and I both know that the only thing left for that worker is flipping burgers at McDonalds. Mrs. Clinton’s idea that a little job training will teach that worker to program computers or become a massage therapist is a sick joke.

        As for our elites, they couldn’t care less. At the same time that they are working overtime to ship manufacturing jobs overseas they stand at attention like the Praetorian Guard to make sure that immigrants never take their jobs. Physicians work relentlessly to insure that it is extraordinarily difficult for physicians from foreign countries to practice in the United States. How do you suppose university faculty would feel if they were;t protected by tenure and their employers started important foreign faculty willing to work for half the wages?

        There was a time that the Democratic Party viewed the interests of working people as a major priority; those days are long gone. The Democrats are now owned lock, stock and barrel by the same business elites who own the GOP. Those business elites have made common cause with the elite press (many of whom are multimillionaires), university faculty (who are handsomely paid for essentially doing nothing) and the professional class (most of whom are protected by licensing requirements and have their incomes massively subsidized by government).

        There’s been quite a lot of talk recently about how opioid addiction is impacting working class communities; in fact there’s an editorial about this in today’s New York Times. Why has opioid addiction become so prevalent? I suggested a rarely discussed possibility above. Addiction and depression and other mental disorders are more prevalent in male offspring of older fathers. Go back and read the article from the Journal of the American Medical Association that I linked to. There are hundreds more peer-reviewed journal articles that say the same thing.

        My hypothesis is simple; not only are contemporary elites driving a stake through the heart of the economic prospects of working class people, especially working class males, but this same population is being devastated by a social phenomenon that no one is talking about, increasing paternal age. It’s just a theory, but I think there is evidence to back it up. Just because modern values make having children later in life socially desirable does not make it biologically desirable. There are other examples of this; for the first time in history, food is plentiful in the United States; few people are malnourished; that’s good. But an unintended result of this is a massive increase in obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes; that’s bad.

        I am not unaware that populism has many negative features and that populist movements usually fail. But there are times that its important to cut elites down to size. Our elites are more repulsive than at any time in recent history Our elites need to be taken down a wrung or two and they need to rethink their approach.

        Thanks to Donald Trump, that’s happening. And it is very, very good.

  • seattleoutcast

    They (experts) have been saying this since the eighties. It never translates into higher salaries. It never will, because companies do not respect those who are on the front lines explaining the moronic behaviors of their managers. “Oh yes, Mr/Ms Customer, your cable rates are now two hundred dollars a month because of: insert lame excuse here such as, infrastructure realignment policies” (and not greedy management.)

    Oh, and as one who has worked in a nursing home, the only people who get decent rates are nurses and, you guessed it, management.

    • f1b0nacc1

      That is because the managers (I like the phrase WigWag uses: GladHanders) think that their social skills are all that matters. Because of their social skills, they are also better positioned to push this case on the rest of the population, which makes things even more problematic. I believe that the phrase that sums this up best is “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

      • Andrew Allison

        Ah, but just think of all those masseuses, not to mention the lack of social skills required of telecommuters [grin]

        • f1b0nacc1

          You are coming close to the conjugation of TAI

      • LarryD

        I fear you are oversimplifying the managers, they are indeed largely a class, not a meritocratic layer, and the “educational system” is the gatekeeper insuring outsiders never have the credentials to enter. The Humanities are full of people from the same social background who lack the confidence to ever risk putting their intellect to the test, which is why they hate/fear/envy “capitalists” so.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Certainly there is much to what you say, but I suspect that the managerial class is able to embed their values so successfully is because their social skills are superior to begin with. The educational system is composed of an entirely different class that has been co-opted by the managerial class, which had to happen somehow after all…

    • Kevin

      It has nothing to do with a lack of respect. The issue is that there are literally millions of other people who could do the job just about as well (and are willing to do so), so there is no need to pay such workers higher wages (in the form of money or respect or anything else). Management and nurses are in short supply so are payed better.

      • seattleoutcast

        I know your point. And I know why nurses get paid more. But anyone who has worked in a hospital or corporate environment knows, there is a lot of bloat and redundancy in management.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Thank you for correctly pointing out why we are not all going to proper as health aides, swim instructors, and massagers of each other.

    • Jim__L

      “Human touch” sounds so very much better than “servile”, don’t you think?

  • vb

    Meanwhile, we are raising the young to communicate only through their smart phones and allowing them to grow up in age-segregated groups from the same socioeconomic background.

  • Kevin

    This overlooks the supply side of the labor market.

    Demand for services delivered by real human beings will mean little if there is an almost infinite supply of people capable of doing the job and the return for increased skill is minimal. (The best retirement home workers are simply not that much more productive than average ones. Two average ones are better than one good one – something not true of, for example legal and medical professionals.) The labor market pays a premium for skills in scarce supply (naturally scarce or articulacy made scarce) relative to demand, and, as part of this, where the increased returns to the purchaser of labor from labor’s skill are very high.

    An open immigration policy with essentially unlimited numbers of impoverished immigrants willing to come for subsistence wages will prevent minimally skilled “service” providers from being a viable career any time in the near future. Industrial workers only became middle class when immigration ended and unions artificially drove up their bargaining power.

  • three_chord_sloth

    To me, these sound like shitty jobs; long days spent ass-kissing and dancing on a string.

    There is a reason the scullery maids and valets of days past encouraged their kids to get an education… and avoid jobs like they had. Pretending this back-to-the-future crap is a good thing gets us nowhere. It’s like we are deconstructing the 20th century, one advancement at a time.

  • LeePefley

    The exhilarating part is that the future might finally incite people who haven’t been fully denatured, (even white men!), to do what must be done, which is to say drive a stake through the diseased heart of feminism, egalitarianism, political correctness, immigration, affirmative action, female suffrage, abolitionism, democracy and post-modern culture.
    tito perdue
    Alt Right

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