Buzzwords like “gig economy,” “on-demand services,” and “digital nomad” have been in the air for a while now. But do they foretell a future when today’s children may never work full-time jobs? We can’t know for sure. At least, not until the future does arrive. But there are ways to catch a glimpse of the times to come.

Statistics about employment trends tell a story about what is happening around us right now. Peering deeply into the numbers can reveal some clues about how emerging trends are likely to affect the workforce of the future.

What employment challenges will our kids be facing when they finally hang up the school bag and lunch pail? Will they even want full-time salaries in return for decades of service with an employer? Or, is it safe to say that full-time employment may go extinct for the most part?

The Future of Full-Time Jobs

Robots have a long way to go before they are sophisticated enough to take on every job while allowing their human overlords to live in a Utopian society devoted to self-exploration. Videos from Boston Dynamics show us bipedal and four-legged creations tackling everyday tasks. They bear an eerie resemblance to living creatures.

However, until then it’s far more likely that humans will increasingly be forced to compete with automation and other mechanical beasts for paid work.

We know this because it’s happening right now. Factory floors were once populated with workers. But they’re now crowded with metal behemoths that are more efficient, don’t need vacations, and never get sick. A team of a dozen engineers and a few robots now achieve higher productivity than was possible four decades years ago.

A lot is going on in the world of technology which has the potential to disrupt employment opportunities for school leavers. In the next few decades, it’s not just mechanical automation threatening the status quo. The internet and the rising global economy are also doing their fair share of disruption.

Let’s have a look at a few of the industries being affected right now by emerging technologies, and how they have the potential to make regular wages and salaries a thing of the past for large portions of the future adult working population.

The On-Demand Economy, Freelancing, and Remote Work

The internet and digital networks are replacing the need for cubicles, with more employers learning to embrace the internet age and free their office workers from the 9-5 grind.

It’s slow going though when you consider the fact that 50 percent of U.S. jobs are capable of being completed remotely, and 80 percent of workers saying they would jump at the chance. However, only 7 percent of employers in the U.S. have implemented a remote working policy.

50% of U.S. jobs are capable of being completed remotely, and 80% of workers saying they would jump at the chance.

Freelancing is On the Rise

Despite the above numbers, there is a growing tide of freelancers striking out on their own. And if employers are slow to embrace the opportunities of remote work, they could find severely understaffed.

Google, Twitter, and Facebook are combating this freelancing trend. Not with remote work, but by allowing their employers more freedom in their work-life balance. Both companies have facilities for childcare, dry cleaning, and even hair salons on-site. But these forward-thinking companies are more likely to become exceptions rather than the norm.

In a digital, connected world, people can work from wherever they want, whenever they want. Their schedules are their own. They can attend their child’s recital and catch up with work later. They can work from the comfort of their homes, or take their laptop to a tropical island if they want. Any place with good internet is fit for getting the job done. 

The On-Demand Economy

Uber is an excellent example of the on-demand economy at work. Thousands of Uber employees ferry customers to-and-fro in major cities all over the world. Employees are called contractors, and they can choose when they work, and for how long. 

The freedom to choose the hours of work is a huge drawcard, and it’s flowing into other industry sectors as well. We can have delicious meals delivered in the middle of the night. Or have our groceries delivered directly to our door. None of this would be possible without the sophisticated technology that keeps employers and workers connected.

Once the next generation of workers gets a taste of the freedom freelancing and remote working provides, shackling them to the office desk may be a tough sell. Organizations in the future will need to carefully consider their employment strategy if they are to attract employees who are accustomed to fitting work around their life, rather than the other way around.

The Looming Threat of Automation and Artificial Intelligence

The US has managed to claw its way out of the latest recession. But today’s economists are predicting another downswing as automation continues to put thousands out of work. Progressive leaps in robotics and AI have created more opportunities for businesses to replace human workers with their plastic and metal counterparts.

In the past, automation only emulated manual-labor jobs, the automobile industry for example.  Automation also makes perfect financial sense for the company. But the collateral damage is often catastrophic to local economies when entire towns find themselves out of work.

Today, AI is a massive threat to office workers. Especially for roles that are analytical in nature.  The march of the robots goes onward in customer service, operations, and doorstep deliveries.

Self-driving cars are getting popular, and automated trucks carry products from one end of the country to another. Robot capabilities are on the rise while human capabilities remain as they have been for centuries.

One recent example in Australia perfectly highlights the growth of artificial intelligence in the workforce. In February of 2018, the National Australia Bank (NAB) laid off 20 percent of its entire workforce (6,000 staff). This massive layoff was a direct result of the NAB installing robotic automation technology.

We often hear that technology will replace every job lost to automation. And while the NAB did bring in 2,000 new workers to work with the new system, these numbers hardly indicate a one-for-one replacement.  Similar scenarios are taking place across the world, with automated technology replacing tens of thousands of employees on an almost annual basis.

Preparing Our Kids for the Future

For now, there is still value in working full time for decent salaries and wages. But the future of work and full-time employment is facing many challenges. The time to start preparing our children for the inevitable changes is now.

Today’s young students will step out as adults into a vastly different world tomorrow. And only time will tell if there will be room for full-time jobs, but the chances are that they will be few and far in between.