Software does not eliminate jobs, rather it transfers them to another entry point in the industrial or value equation. According to The Economist, computers "reallocate rather than displace jobs, requiring workers to learn new skills." There will never be enough software engineers to meet demand. With hundreds of thousands of open software and engineering jobs worldwide, the appetite for workers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills is boundless.
The bottom line is that when there is greater demand, there are more jobs. Software drives that demand. Making software work gets other people working.
Look at Uber as a clear and current example. There are more professional drivers on the road today than ever before Uber's application actually converted a car from being something that costs money to something that makes money. For some, driving for Uber has become a full-time job while others use the app to help make ends meet. For others, owning a car is too expensive, but they are willing to pay for rides in small increments. A mature market has been established and people are working—all because of software. The looming likelihood of self-driving cars promises more disruption, with some seeing a shrinking job count while others maintain jobs will again shift to opportunities such as like call centers.
When ATMs – software-driven banking – first began to appear, people predicted that banks and banking jobs would shrink. But the opposite occurred and, in fact, the financial services industry supports more jobs today than it did before ATMs existed. The dawn of ATMs freed banks to do things such as open more branches with fewer staff members while maintaining a net positive on jobs.
Software is supporting jobs across the globe. In Africa, even the act of matching an existing job with a potential candidate was a vexing and persistent problem. However, mobile phone penetration, which has doubled over the past two years, gave people – employers and job-hunters – access to the internet in an unprecedented way. Now many of the unemployed and underemployed can identify and obtain decent working opportunities by simply using their phones.
The software that powers the internet also breathed whole new life into niche retailers. Stores that sell comic books — or virtually any collectible or specialty item — saw their customer base explode worldwide. The introduction of a tremendous amount of potential consumers enabled these types of businesses to become more aggressive and do things like expand or increase staff. The internet reaffirmed and reinvigorated a variety of small businesses and created more jobs.
For even more proof, look at the exact opposite of the niche retailer: Amazon. The U.S. online retailer creates jobs up and down their supply chain. There are a number of more complex jobs in logistics and operations, but also an incredible amount of other kinds of jobs from delivery drivers, to the people who make the boxes - the list goes on and on.
Leadership of every stripe needs to be incredibly responsive and responsible as the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold. To face the challenges properly, our children will need to be steeped early in math and sciences, which serve as the building blocks for engineering. The jobs and requirements for the present and the future will need trained people to realize the true potential of software. That is a priority.
While water remains a basic human need, the ability to create a nimbostratus cloud in a lab remains elusive. However, we can control and prepare for the present and future opportunities in software. When harnessed, software will take us anywhere our minds and creativity map out, while quite likely saving the world along the way.
Mike Gregoire is chief executive of CA Technologies.