“The problem is we no longer make ‘things’“. So said an unemployed European architect in a recent BBC programme, on the problems of unemployment in that part of the world.
The Manchester City replica jersey that he bought when on a trip to Britain in his teens has a label ‘Made in England‘. He challenged his fellow panellists to find a similar football jersey with the same manufacturer’s mark today. Inevitably,. a 2013 version will have ‘Made in China‘ stamped on its label.
It got me thinking about just how important making ‘things’ were to an economy; as opposed to a country that acts solely as a financial hub and has little or no production of ‘real objects’. Or for that matter, an online hub that produces no real goods and simply trades on the products of others.
It is no coincidence that the most successful country in the Euro-zone is Germany who still have a solid engineering and manufacturing base. Compare it to Spain where much of production has gone off-shore. The latter has an unemployment rate that is now hovering around a quarter of its entire population.
I am fortunate to live in country that still produces ‘things’ that other countries need to sustain their population. In our case its agricultural products and on the back of this, our economy ticks along even though we are far away from our principal markets.
While it is true that the Internet makes it easy to work from anywhere, and within any time zone, not everyone’s profession or trade easily translates into an online opportunity. My own consultancy and sphere of employment works well across countries but others are not so well off.
The next big challenge to global employment is not the ongoing shift of production to Asia, or even robotics, but rather, the ‘Internet of Things‘. Many of those employed in intermediary roles in information technology will find themselves superfluous to requirements, as machines talk directly to machines without the need for human intervention.
This is a trend that is neither going to be halted or gradually fade away. John Chambers of CISCO presents a rosy vision of the future when he says “factor in societal benefits to citizens, communities and countries, as well as consumer benefits, you begin to get a sense for the Internet of Everything’s potential to enable improved quality of life, richer experiences, new capabilities and increased economic value“.
He goes on to note “Along with great opportunity, the emergence of the Internet of Everything will present technology, organizational, process, regulatory, cultural, and other challenges“.
I would suggest that to be an active participant in the ‘The Internet of Things‘ age one will need to work and live in a society that fosters innovation. We are all aware that economies that are the real drivers of innovation. A sick economy is not conducive to building an environment where employment growth can be built upon the back of innovation.
CTO Scott Morrison writing in an article for Gigacom points out that Apple created an economy around the iPhone “by designing both a platform on which third parties could innovate, and then the means to capitalize on their applications“. And by creating this economy all manner of people then had the opportunity to build products and to innovate.
As I wrote in a 2011 post, the emergence of a global data field and machines talking to machines without human intervention creates both challenges and opportunities.
The ‘Internet of Things‘ mean new business models and these will have profound implications for employment. Smart grids and similar infrastructure utilities will affect all of our lives and by extension, our employment options.
If you are manufacturing the actual ‘things’ that interconnect then you are on to a winner. If though, your purpose thus far is to be a technical or bureaucratic intermediary, then a quick course in cheese-making 101 might be your best bet.