By Carolyn Gray Anderson
UCLA Anderson Distinguished Professor of Decisions, Operations, and Technology Management Uday Karmarkar addressed the December edition of the UCLA Anderson Forecast conference, self-referencing as a humble “tourist” among the gathered economists and followers of the forecast. Forecast Director Edward Leamer introduced him following a discussion of robotics and other forms of automation in the traditional workplace, but said of Karmarkar, “He doesn’t have to worry about robots taking his job anytime soon.”
Karmarkar might himself disagree, observing wryly that “the golden age of education is almost over.” Keeping pace in the information age, he said, means that bundling, brand and presence trump scale. With a background in manufacturing dating to the 1970s and ’80s, Karmarkar made the shift to information-intensive industries during a period of “back-room” industrialization, such as the introduction of sophisticated office equipment.
“Ask yourself how you can industrialize your job,” he said, “because it’s going to happen.”
Device makers don’t create jobs, he said, but information brokers do. However, sector size doesn’t increase with the growth of an industry anymore — the way the transportation sector might have done when automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. In the 21st century, the music industry, for example, hasn’t exploded relative to the changes in modes of delivery, packaging or other innovations.
“We need to redesign jobs for this environment,” Karmarkar said. Services like mobile data management and crowdsourcing don’t “stack” neatly anymore, they extend vine-like out into uncontained virtual space. “The world is leveling off,” he said. “Logistics are cheap. People are entering markets they couldn’t before.” His most illustrative case studies include platform and process managers at large tech firms like Google. “They exist in an evolving organizational setting,” he said, and entail a vast array of skills, tasks and responsibilities all in one supposed position — conflict resolution, storytelling, negotiation, team management and much more. “I think this job has to evolve, too,” said Karmarkar: it’s an unrealistic, weblike combination of objectives and is not, he said, a sustainable solution.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a growth rate of 15.6 million jobs between 2012 and 2022. Job categories in the BLS database have grown from 400 to 850 in a decade. The new information sector will be affected to a certain extent by attrition and Karmarkar wonders if young people today are trained and educated adequate to the tasks that lie ahead in a competitive landscape. “What happens when Google starts an MBA program? Or a bank?”
Finding a niche, he said, is key to companies’ success. The most important job skills will include communication, interaction, a global and multicultural savvy, technology literacy and the ability to keep pace with changing business relationships and practices.
Uday Karmarkar is the L.A. Times Chair in Technology and Strategy and founder and director of UCLA Anderson’s Business and Information Technologies Project, which studies the impact of new online information and communication technologies on business practices worldwide and has research partners in 17 countries.