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To both candidates, where exactly will the jobs come from?

US Embassy
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The Next Idea

So here we are at the end of one of the most odious and vitriolic campaigns in memory. Rather than adding yet more commentary, I’d like to dig deeper into a claim both parties make – that they will bring jobs back to the U.S. The question no one is asking is “where exactly will the jobs come from?”

Over the past 25 years, while many jobs have moved overseas, far more have been simply eliminated by the introduction of transformational software, systems and technology. This has happened in three phases: transactional, translational and transpersonal. Let’s explore these one at a time.

Remember when there were legions of telephone operators, bank clerks and travel agents? While some jobs like that still remain, their number is a mere fraction of what they were a decade ago. That’s because the Internet and software have made it possible for the average person to connect, find what they’re looking for, and manage the transaction with a minimum amount of help. These jobs went to low-cost technologies and will never return. Given that these were entry-level positions for many people, this first step to gainful employment is no longer a viable option.

The next level of career busting is happening further up the earnings ladder. Time-honored professions like photography and architecture are also being dismantled by information and technology. Consider the fact that more photographs, albeit not necessarily good ones, are taken every day on smart phones than were made during the last 100 years.

Recently a colleague of mine designed a cottage using specialized software. Just in case he ran into trouble, there was an 800 number to call for assistance. With minimal revisions and input from the contractor, his cottage was built to spec.

Finally, innovations have now made it to the top level of the earnings ladder where years of training and experience are being replaced by transpersonal technologies.

Attorneys are the newest class of job seeker unable to find suitable employment. It’s not just that degree mill institutions are turning out armies of lawyers, but also that turnkey and boilerplate law is now being performed by software or assembly line systems where lawyers handle hundreds of cases at a time. Look no further than LegalZoom, now the largest law firm in the U.S.

In our top medical centers, artificial intelligence is now being used to review MRIs and diagnose diseases. Intelligent machines can scan thousands of journal articles and clinical trials each day and suggest treatment therapies. While these are being overseen by physicians today, one doesn’t have to look too far into the future to see that the better these systems get the less the doctor is needed.

Perhaps the best example of the power of these transpersonal technologies is my own profession. In my 27 years as a professor at the University of Michigan, I estimate that I have taught somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 students. By putting a mere dozen of my lectures on a massive open online course, I’ve already taught more than 100 times that number of students in a single year. It has become clear to me that my job and career path are on a new trajectory and it’s all I can do to keep up with it.

Sure, there are some jobs that won’t radically change: fixing your car, planting a field, giving an injection, mowing your lawn, or cleaning your drain. These are all skilled, valuable and honorable careers, and we need them. But these are a mere fraction of the jobs required to drive growth in a First World economy.

So to the candidates, I ask a very simple question “Where exactly will the jobs come from?” The new world of work looks nothing like the old one and neither will the solutions for job creation. Stop talking about the past. It’s behind us now. Only the future lies ahead. That will require some innovative new approaches to job creation – and leaders capable of creating them.

Jeff DeGraff is a clinical professor of business administration at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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