How the Internet of Things will shake up the job market

The Internet of Things promises greater efficiency. Does that mean fewer jobs?

Noah Berger/Stock/Reuters
A Kiva robot moves inventory at an Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, California in 2014.

Before the Internet of Things arrived, computers knew only what humans told them. Today, devices can sense their environments, and act accordingly, all without human intervention.

For example, the Nest Learning Thermostat can adjust your thermostat based on your location, turning on the AC when you leave work so you come home to a cool house.

But what kind of jobs will people be coming home from in an age when computers are so smart they don’t even need humans to input data?

Amazon is already using over 30,000 robots in its warehouses, and start-up companies across the US are developing new ways to automate e-commerce delivery even more efficiently. When driverless trucks completed a successful long-distance trip across Europe in April, the elimination of jobs in the trucking industry appeared to take one step closer to reality.

A recent op-ed published in TechCrunch aims to counter the perception that the proliferation of the Internet of Things will eliminate jobs. Zach Supalla, the CEO of a start-up that supports the development of internet-connected hardware (i.e. Internet of Things products), argued that the Internet of Things “will do exactly what technology does everywhere – it supplants low-skill jobs with high-skill jobs.”

While robots will take over for people with simple, repetitive jobs in manufacturing and quality control, new jobs will be created in other, more creative areas, according to Supalla. He predicts the advent of the IoT Business Designer, “a creative thought leader who will search for business opportunities that can be addressed through IoT, then assemble a tech solution to address the opportunity.”

Machina Research predicts that “at least one Fortune 500 company will appoint a Chief IoT Officer” this year. Another new job is what Supalla calls a “fuller stack developer,” an engineer also comfortable working with code who can develop the physical objects that send relevant data to computers to be analyzed.

What might this shift in the job market look like in practice? Streetline is a "smart parking" company whose technology is used in 40 cities in North America and Europe to keep track of empty and occupied parking spaces, guiding drivers to available parking and law enforcement officers to parking violations through an app. Streetline therefore makes it possible for law enforcement officers to work more efficiently, possibly eliminating some workers.

Though cities might need to hire fewer people to drive the streets, looking for violations, Streetline is certainly hiring. One job opening is for Parking Data Scientist: someone who will examine the vast amount of data the company collects and present it in a useful manner.

Gartner, a leading information technology research company, predicted that there will be 7.3 billion objects hooked up to the Internet of Things by 2020, an almost thirtyfold increase from 2009. Gartner predicts that Internet of Things companies will generate more than $300 billion in incremental revenue in 2020.

Advice from Sarah Miller Caldicott, Forbes columnist and great grandniece of Thomas Edison, for people looking to score a job in the age of the Internet of Things? “Rather than putting your head in the sand, consider the digital industrial revolution a chance to expand the innovation capacities that make you uniquely human.”

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