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How the Gig Economy and Automation will kill the College degree

Written by Samson Williams

“What’s the worst financial decision you’ve ever made?” Mind Your Damn Money asked on Instagram. To which I initially replied “Go to college” and had a good chuckle. As I personally found it amusing, and then sad. As I know many people who have a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt and slim chances of ever being free of that burden.

But in my case going to college made sense. Best two years of partying like a rockstar possible. Go ‘Noles! Yet, as I began thinking about it, in the Gig Economy, do you need a degree? And what good is a degree in a world where we generally agree that 80% of today’s jobs won’t exist due to automation?

 

What’s the Gig Economy?

Unemployment is at historical lows. Meanwhile, the wealth gap has increased. How is this possible? Simple, the Gig Economy. The Gig Economy means you have a job that requires full time hours, but doesn’t actually give you full time pay. More than likely you’re actually working poor. Some examples of the Gig Economy include:  Uber, TaskRabbit, Lyft, Amazon delivery, consulting work and other temporary work (or “gigs”) of various types. No health benefits, no savings, no investment plans, no sick days. At best you’re a 1099 employee (meaning you have to pay your own taxes, which 99% of the time just screws you later).  While you get to theoretically set your own hours, you end up working so much your hourly wage is similar to those of an Uber driver, around $9.00 an hour.  In short, the Gig Economy is temporary, benefitless work.

 

Automation’s impact on the Gig Economy

When you go to the grocery store and “self-checkout” that is automation. Humans love automation. Automation enables us to shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. Everything from Amazon Prime to picking up our cars at the airport. All without ever having to talk to another human being. When is the last time you went to the bank? I mean, actually walked inside of a bank and had to talk directly to a teller? In most people’s book, having to talk to an actual person to get a good, product or service is a fail. Why? Because it typically means you had to wade through an automated customer services system, pressing “0” and “1” and begging to be connected to a human. One who may or may not care by the time you get to speak to them. Fortunately though, those virtual assistants are getting pretty good.

If you’ve called a 1-800 number in the last year, there is a 90% chance you’ve spoken to a virtual, automated assistant and not even known it. Soon, they’ll be so human like they’ll curse you out and hang up on you on purpose. But before they get there, let’s see what else has been automated that you love:

● Traveling – travel agents exist but who other than your grandmother uses them? You’ve probably got an app for that.

● Grocery shopping – from Peapod, Blue Apron, to Amazon Fresh, being able to ordering groceries online and having them delivered to your doorstep is simply amazing!

● Dating – well sort of. But you can select folks to date, as fast as you can swipe right!

● Apps – anything with an app is an automated tool. Apps makes many goods, products or services faster, easier and cheaper. Sadly, they can also make your dating life faster, easier and cheaper.

 

The College Degree

Having an idea of what the Gig Economy is and what Automation is, what does this have to do with the college degree? Simple. As more jobs are automated, what good will four years of studying a thing be, when all you can get is a gig? A temporary, benefitless, low paying, high hour job?

One of the hidden truths about automation is that the first jobs to go, are the white collar ones. Those currently requiring degrees and “higher” thinking skills. Why? It makes financial sense to automate your most expensive employees. While there is that upfront cost of automating their job, once done, how much healthcare do you have to provide to an algorithm? Have you ever had a dumbbot call out sick, ask for a day off, freak out in the office or incur a sexual harassment settlement? Too, if you’re in upper management, you make more money. The productivity doesn’t decrease with automation. No, No, No. It increases. The cost savings are converted to profits, which enable you to get a bigger bonus. If you automate “John’s” position, you can buy yourself a new house — now that’s an incentive worth looking into.

 

The Future of Work and Education

The future of education isn’t one where you have a four year degree that says you can read, write and follow directions. The future of education, as dictated by the gig economy and automation, is one where you need to be clearly able to demonstrate your proficiency at a craft. Are you an artist – then draw me something / show me your portfolio. Are you a project manager, coder or admin? What is your Yelp or LinkedIn rating? Ok, professionals don’t have LinkedIn ratings…yet. But they will. Because if you’re great at what you do, you don’t need a degree. You need a reference. You need a reputation. The Future of Work looks a whole lot like apprenticeships. Where capable, journeymen and women accept apprentices to study under them. Where, based on your ability to be creative, add demonstrable value and out “creative” AIs you will have a job.

What does “out-creative an AI” mean? It means, as blockchain networks and infrastructure get built, smart algorithms and dumb bots mature, we will soon come to a point where we have something very similar to actual Artificial Intelligences  that can do 90% of white collar jobs. Even many blue collar / physical labor will be automated. In this environment, creativity and emotional intelligence will be the new employment gold. This is what “our creative an AI” mean. It means, you’re better at being human than a program.

My niece and nephew, three years and 13 months old respectively, as of July 2018, will never have four year degrees. They’ll grow up in a world where everything is automated. They will have jobs. Only because nepotism is real. But for everyone else. You included, how are you planning for your financial future, when your college degree will be about as useful as the Yellow Pages?

Stay tuned. Next will be a discussion on the political realities of automation, AIs, a jobless future and this thing called Universal Basic Income. Also, how you can strategically position your career to be relevant for the next 100 years.

 

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