Get on the technology curve

Gone are the days when we could select a job that’s been around for decades and expect to retire from it

What do you want to be when you grow up?

If you’re reading this, you probably answered that question a long time ago. Even so, suppose your kids asked for your advice. What would you tell them?

Gone are the days when we could select a job that’s been around for decades and expect to retire from it. Technology is changing everything, and too many people are not paying attention until it’s too late.

For instance, just look at what Uber and other ride-hailing services have done to the taxicab industry. We still have cabs, and possibly always will, but we won’t need as many.

As if that’s not enough, they’re testing self-driving cars in Boston. No doubt it’s possible for one of them to fail, and the results could be catastrophic, but machines tend to fail far less frequently than humans. How long do you think it will be before Uber doesn’t need drivers anymore?

And what about long-haul truck drivers? Always seeing what’s over the hill or around the next curve is enticing. Songs and movies have glamorized it to a degree. We may always need delivery drivers to carry the packages in, but long-haulers usually go from terminal to terminal. Self-driving trucks probably won’t be far behind self-driving cars.

Professionals are not immune. Just look at what TurboTax and other programs have done to the tax preparation industry. Yes, we still need CPAs and others for the more complicated returns, but the simple ones are bypassing these services more and more. If politicians ever get around to simplifying the tax code, that could make a bigger dent than TurboTax.

My youngest sister, Janet, passed away in 1992 after a courageous battle against cancer. She used a software program to write her will. Yes, we still needed a lawyer to get it through probate, but the simpler legal services are becoming quite automated.

Lawyers can use online data bases and a number of automated tools to simplify their research and their work in general. It makes their jobs easier and less time-consuming. However, the same technology can be used to create commercial applications that enable consumers to bypass the legal profession entirely.

Manufacturing facilities usually have a group of folks who get the right components to the right places for assembly into the products they sell. A good-sized plant might have had 50 people in MatAcq (material acquisition). Then MRP (material resource planning) systems came along and made those jobs a lot easier. Today, that MatAcq group may only have five people in it.

Since virtually all manufacturing facilities have MRP software of one kind or another, there’s much less of a need for these good people, many of whom are well-educated.

And how many good-paying jobs have been lost to robotics on the factory floor?

Fast-food establishments have long been the refuge of people who couldn’t get better-paying jobs. Wendy’s is experimenting with automated kiosks at a number of their locations. We’ll be able to get burgers, fries and drinks without dealing with anyone. Again, somebody may always be there, but they won’t need as many people as they used to.

So what should we do? No doubt all this innovation can create massive unemployment at all levels and in most industries. If we don’t want to be among them, we have several choices.

The top people, the most versatile and effective in most professions, will be among those who inherit the resulting jobs. Become the very best at what you do.

Despite millions of unemployed, employers still have trouble finding qualified people to fill the best jobs. In many cases, it may not even take much to become qualified, but that’s what it takes to put us in the running. Maybe you need a course or two, an internship or some other qualifying process. You might even be able to do it part-time after work.

The point is don’t wait. Look around. Get the lay of the land and see what would work best for you. Many jobs won’t last forever, but you can be one of the ones that ends up with something better.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or