May 25 2011

Using Technology to Drive Job Growth

It’s time for companies to focus on using technology to create new products, services and markets.

Technology has two primary uses in business. The first, and the one corporations and governments tend to embrace, is using technology to do the same thing as always, only faster and at a lower cost. This is a great way to use technology, but the unfortunate result is the elimination of jobs.

The other way to use technology is as a tool of creation. Creating new products, services and markets naturally leads to job growth. In 1993, I predicted that we were at the dawn of a great technology-driven revolution that would change how we live, work and play, and that half of what would be considered the hot jobs by the year 2000 had not yet been invented.

Two years later, Amazon, Yahoo, eBay and many other technology-driven companies emerged. With them came all sorts of new jobs, both local and global, that had never existed before.

From website developers and Internet service providers to people building and installing advanced automation systems and constructing new cell phone towers, technology has ushered in a host of new jobs. But that was then. What about today?

It’s not the tool that matters, but how it’s used. In other words, technology can be used to eliminate jobs or to create jobs. Unfortunately, many leaders primarily see technology as a job eliminator. It’s time to change that mindset because now we’re in the midst of a bigger and more profound technology-driven transformation.

Today, technology is transforming how we sell, market, communicate, collaborate, innovate, educate and train. The good news is that the tools for transformation are already here; we don’t have to invent them. But if companies use technology only to do more with less, they will miss the opportunity to create new products, services, markets and jobs.

Let’s be clear about one thing, though: Even when used as a tool of creation, technology will always eliminate some jobs. For example, the best job for a robot is one that’s highly repetitive, such as assembly line work. But when technology enables a new company to form or an existing one to expand, it also creates jobs.

In the past, one could learn how to do something and then earn an income from that skill for a lifetime. Now we need to relearn repeatedly. I was recently interviewed about the importance of education and training, and the reporter said to me, “I suspect you’d want the U.S. to have a well-trained workforce.” I replied, “No. That wouldn’t help us because we have so much transformation coming. What I really want is a workforce that’s capable of being retrained again and again.”

In the 21st century, job security is no longer the Holy Grail for employment; rather, it’s job adaptability. It’s not about guaranteeing employees a job for life; it’s about making sure people can be hired to do different jobs in the future. As soon as people shift their mindset and embrace the concept of job adaptability as a key to career-long employment rather than simply seeking job security, they will find themselves highly employable for life, in some ways thanks to technology.