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How jobs are changing: Goodbye low-quality positions. Welcome to the era of “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, arts, math)

There will be no more postmen. No more stenographers, or switchboard operators, or farm workers. It will be the era of biotechnologies, of doctors armed with nanotechnology and, above all, of experts in social networking and digital marketing, specialists in cloud technology, app developers, and other hyper-technological computer experts to help boost growth in manufacturing, in the service industry, and even in agriculture. But there will also be greater opportunities for experts in wellness and recreation, like zumba (dance for fitness) instructors, beach gymnastics instructors (one of the fastest growing professions since 2008, ballooning by a factor of 3,360, right behind experts in big data and a triumph for beach resorts).

This is what comes out of a recent study carried out by Deloitte, a leading international advisory firm, and Oxford University (as reported in La Stampa on 12 November) confirming the extent of the radical changes currently under way. “The End of Work” was the title of a book by Jeremy Rifkin, a keen analyst of economic change, written back in 1995. It turned out to be prophetic. Then came analyses of the end of Fordism, of “individualist mutations” in jobs and professions, and of the “age of jobs” (on which the Renzi government’s Job Act is based). In short, goodbye “work”. Hello “jobs”.

We are going through a period of transition in which old-fashioned production systems still have their weight – though suffering (and giving rise to union protests as people lose their jobs) – but a new equilibrium is already being established, and the keenest observers of these transformations are noting that the digital revolution continues unimpeded, impacting on the economy in unpredictable ways. “Today, students are working towards professions yet to be created, based on technologies yet to be invented for problems of which we are still unaware,” were the paradoxical words of Andrea Cammelli, director of Almalaurea, the largest database of university graduates in Italy (La Repubblica, 10 November).

A figure out of the United Kingdom is also the topic of much debate: over the next ten years, ten million jobs – those that are the most repetitive, low quality and poorly paid – will be lost to robotics (La Stampa, 12 November). That’s the bad news, but the good news is that it will free up resources for more highly skilled, better paid, more satisfying jobs, so long as there are extensive programmes of high-tech training for those who have been pushed out of their jobs in old-fashioned production processes. In the era of the “knowledge economy”, digital capabilities are what has value, as well as more general skills, so that people are not “information technology workers”, but rather self-aware, responsible experts.

In other words, we are witnessing what experts say is based on the “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, math) model and which is now being extended (such as, in Italy, by Gianfelice Rocca, president of Assolombarda and for many years head of education for Confindustria) to “STEAM” (powering the engine of development), where the “A” stands for “arts” and refers more broadly to the humanities – art, literary knowledge, and so on – a specialisation in which Italy has led the way for generations and which is now, naturally enough, to be defended in a more technological manner (e.g. by investing in education and related information technologies in order to close the digital divide that still weighs heavily on the nation, an outlier in Europe with just 6 computers for every 100 students, as compared to the EU average of 16).

Intelligence and knowledge are being seen as the keys to growth, as well as an openness to changes in the job market, but we must also keep in mind a calculation by Enrico Moretti, a brilliant economist at the University of California, Berkeley, found in his book The New Geography of Jobs: for every new high-tech job – such as a highly specialised computer engineer, Google software designer, or physicist specialised in nanotechnologies – five more jobs are created, both in highly skilled professions (lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses) and in less skilled jobs related to services for businesses and individuals. It is a driver of economic growth, a sort of “social escalator” (where what counts is what you know, learn and can do, not who you are or who you know) to give a greater boost to development.