The future is consultant-workers who are experts in their fields

Jobs-for-life are a thing of the past and tertiary institutions ought to be able to prepare students for a work environment where innovation and lateral thinking prevail. / VALERi Kachaev
Jobs-for-life are a thing of the past and tertiary institutions ought to be able to prepare students for a work environment where innovation and lateral thinking prevail. / VALERi Kachaev

Youth Month in South Africa, June, is the perfect time to ruminate on the possibilities that lie ahead for young people.

When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote TheCommunist Manifesto in 1848, they called upon the workers of the world to unite because, in their view, the future would resemble an intensification of the injustice they were experiencing.

By 1848, the Industrial Revolution had congealed into a clear pattern of worker exploitation.

For the next 150 years, the whole world remained transfixed in the brilliance of Marx's predictions. But, since the dawn of the 21st century, the world economy has literally turned away from Marx's direction.

We now live in an economic reality where it does not matter how much Marx's workers unite, robots continue to work.

Trade unions all over the world are losing members.

Robots don't go on strike. They simply keep on working.

In short, we now live in Marx's unforeseen future - the era of artificial intelligence.

There was a time when a security guard used to spend the whole night walking around the fence of a factory to keep criminals away. Today, criminals fear cameras more than a uniformed guard.

Already we see in the world economy the emergence of a new kind of worker; he or she is called a "consultant".

These new consultant-workers do not receive a salary; they are paid a lump sum upon project completion.

The consultant-worker is essentially a highly skilled and broadly knowledgeable person who is an expert in a specialised field. The future belongs to this kind of worker.

The future worker will not join a union; he or she will sleep fewer hours and spend more time broadening their knowledge. They will use the night to incubate the wonders of the day.

There are workers like this in South Africa already. The most confident of engineers today generally work for themselves. Indeed, working for oneself is more rewarding than working for someone else. The problem is that our universities are not yet geared towards producing the worker of the future. Our students are still trained to sit before an interviewing panel. They are not trained to come up with innovative proposals, new apps or programmes.

In the emerging economy of the future, even social scientists will have to learn how to operate as consultant-workers. This will require the art of packaging traditionally academic knowledge into tradable commodities.

The computers of the future will be able to think and to supervise working machines while the rich play golf or have sex.

To survive in such a future, you will either need knowledge or to be an entertainer.

The knowledgeable will work in boardrooms, while entertainers will dance, crack jokes or walk semi-naked on stage while the rich enjoy food and wine at their evening banquets.

Everything in the future will have a price tag. If you have money, you will buy a politician, a police officer, or a professor. The professors of the future will be intellectual celebrities who don't sit in a dingy university office. They will teach students from across the world via tele-conferencing while seated in a coffee shop.

Observe the lives of acclaimed thinkers like Joseph Stiglitz or Niall Ferguson, if you think I am dreaming.

I don't know a single thinker in South Africa today who writes books that are as influential as those written by Professor Ferguson. Yet this professor is always in the air going somewhere.

The societies of the future will be highly unstable. Inequality will be the normal. The wealth of nations will be concentrated in the hands of a small stratum of superrich individuals who hide behind gated communities and high security walls.

The tragedy is that Adam Smith's invisible hand of the market will never allocate resources equitably. Even the visible hand of politics that is supposed to direct economics will sink into materialist madness. It will be every person for themselves.

So, what will the youth need to survive in that kind of scary future? Four things: cutting-edge knowledge, creativity, versatility, and the art of re-invention.

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