Does that mean we are we destined to suffer from chronic unemployment? Far from it. We will create new types of jobs in industries that we have not even conceived of yet. These jobs are likely to raise our standards of living, improve our quality of life, and unleash our creativity.
This may strike you as a utopian dream, but look at the industries that the mobile phone applications economy has spawned since the advent of the iPhone in 2007. An analysis by economist Michael Mandel showed that, as of December 2011, the mobile “app economy” employed 155,000 tech workers in the U.S. Another study by University of Maryland professors Il-Horn Hann, Siva Viswanathan and Byungwan Koh determined that the Facebook apps platform, which was also launched in May 2007, resulted in the direct employment of an estimated 53,434 third-party developers as of September 2011. These numbers don’t include the jobs created in related technical fields and other sectors of the economy: 311,000 in mobile apps and, on the lower end of study’s estimate range, 129,310 in Facebook apps.
Similarly, the new manufacturing will create new types of jobs. We can only guess what these jobs will be and what new industries will emerge, however. The one thing we can be sure about is that we will require a workforce with much different skills and education than what was required for the manufacturing jobs of yesteryear.
Carl Bass, President and CEO of Autodesk, which develops 3D design software for manufacturing, engineering, and entertainment, sees three key developments that will define the new manufacturing jobs: new materials, new processes, and complex integration of automated systems. (Full disclosure: Autodesk is a corporate founder of Singularity University, where I serve as vice president of academics and innovation in addition to my roles at Stanford, Duke, Emory, University of California-Berkeley and Harvard.)
Engineers and scientists are developing many new types of materials such as carbon nanotubes, ceramic-matrix nanocomposites (and their metal-matrix and polymer-matrix equivalents), and new carbon fibers—such as those which BMW is using in its new i3 Concept vehicle. These new materials enable designers to create products that are stronger, lighter, more energy efficient and more durable—opening up new applications that create new markets and displace traditional materials. The key, however, is the ability to apply these materials in high volume and with low costs. This is a challenge that requires innovations in material processing technologies and more highly skilled employees to manage the complex, new manufacturing processes. Prospective employees will need extensive training in order to work in this new environment.