The U.S. job market is strong but dynamic, and to keep up, workers are going to have to evolve.
Automation and data analysis will expand further into the U.S. job market in 2017, causing some significant changes in hiring, workflow and professional training.
"America's labor market today is one of the healthiest in a generation, with rising pay, record numbers of unfilled jobs and historically low unemployment," says Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist of job marketplace Glassdoor, in a report he wrote on the labor market in 2017 titled, "Looking Ahead: 5 Jobs Trends to Watch in 2017."
"On the other hand, it's also a time of great uncertainty," he says. "Technology and automation are changing the way we work forever, creating opportunities and growing pains."
Chamberlain expects to see five major changes in the labor market in the next year.
1. Robots will affect blue-collar work — and white-collar work, too
While automation is already replacing many blue-collar jobs, like dock workers and grocery store cashiers, it will increasingly encroach on the work of white-collar jobs, like financial analysts, according to Chamberlain. But that doesn't mean that everyone at a desk is going to lose his or her job. It just means that more people are going to have to be re-trained to perform their job in tandem with automation more often, he says.
"The big change that we are going to see from automation is not mass unemployment. What we are going to see is that people need to up-skill regularly. Everybody needs to be doing this, not just attorneys and doctors," who have historically had to routinely update their skill set, says Chamberlain.
"I believe that we are going to see all white-collar jobs have to carve out a budget of time to replenish their skills going forward."
By contrast, Silicon Valley futurists predict that automation is going to lead to widespread unemployment. Elon Musk has said that he thinks the only viable solution will be for the government to give cash handouts to all residents. This idea, also known as a "universal basic income," is the center of a new $10 million research project co-chaired by one of the co-founders of Facebook.
Chamberlain isn't concerned. "There absolutely is a raging debate about automation," he says. But the percentage of workers today who will lose their job to a robot in our lifetimes is marginal.
"The people in Silicon Valley often really overestimate the effect of this because they are in this bubble where everything they do in their jobs is affected by code," he says, pointing out that many communities in other parts of the country have work forces that are less computer-centric and can't be replaced as easily by automation.
2. We aren't all going to become Uber drivers
The popularity of companies like Uber and Airbnb has given momentum to the notion that the gig economy, where workers are paid for one task at a time rather than with a salary, would gradually overtake the labor market. Chamberlain says that's a combination of catastrophizing and over-active imagination.
The pace of growth in the gig economy is going to slow, he says. "There has been a lot of growth in recent years because there has been low-hanging fruit for gig work," says Chamberlain. "And most of the low-hanging fruit, like these really simple kinds of jobs ... they have already been picked up."
Going forward, he expects that there may be some more growth in the number of transportation gig economy workers, like Uber drivers, but there will likely be a decline in the number of house-sharing arrangements. The house-sharing economy may have gotten ahead of itself, he says.
But overall in the U.S. economy, the vast majority of workers will have salaried, full-time jobs. "For the foreseeable future, for our lifetimes, most people will still be employed in traditional employment relationships," says Chamberlain.
3. Human resource professionals will do less paperwork and more creative recruiting
Historically, human resource departments have been in charge of tracking applicant paperwork and managing hiring legal issues. A lot of that has been automated with applicant tracking systems, leaving human resource professionals to do much more creative work.
And thanks to a strong employment market, human resources professionals do have to compete for top talent. "HR is absolutely changing," says Chamberlain. In addition to creating more thoughtful hiring strategies, HR departments can think about more strategic employee engagement programs and building more thorough referral programs.
4. Extravagant benefits will give way to traditional ones
"A tight labor market in tech is partly what sparked the growth of exotic perks and benefits," says Chamberlain. To lure top talent, Silicon Valley dangled carrots like free meals, dog-friendly offices, video games, on site yoga classes, and unlimited vacation.
While the job market is hot right now, data has shown that those sorts of benefits, while fun to Tweet about and discuss at a cocktail party, don't do much for an employee's commitment to a job or feeling of satisfaction at work.
"When you look at the data of what keeps employees satisfied long term, it is always the core, traditional benefits," says Chamberlain. Those include retirement benefits, great health insurance and a paid time off policy.
"That hasn't really changed at all," he says. What has changed is that now there is data to show that "we get the biggest bang for the buck from traditional benefits."
5. Data will give employers deeper insight into the pay gap
As with the evolution in human resources, the key here is data, according to Chamberlain. The pay gap is not a new issue. Currently, female employees make, on average, 80 cents on the dollar, according to October 2016 data from the National Partnership for Women & Families, and female employees of color fare even worse. What is different in 2017 is that the data science capabilities are increasing, says Chamberlain.
As companies are faced with more data showing them the discrepancy in pay, they will have a greater motivation and ability to address the issue.
Data itself can't solve a complicated issue of inequality that is driven by human fears, prejudices and behavior patterns. In fact, "it is unlikely that there is any one solution that will completely address this issue," says Chamberlain. But increased transparency is an important first step.