In recent months, Bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain have become very popular topics of conversation. Usually, these discussions revolve around the value of Bitcoin and other digital currencies. As a Career Coach and HR Consultant, I’m more focused on the career opportunities and the HR implications that are related to the blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In a future post, I’ll address some of the HR issues. In this article, I’ll describe employment opportunities that relate to blockchain technology that are aligned with seven fields of employment.
What is the blockchain?
Just to be sure that we’re all on the same page, let me share a simple definition of the blockchain. If you’re interested in more information about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, here are a couple of links where you can drill down deeper than I can in this article: a 3-minute, non-technical explainer video, and general news and information about cryptocurrencies.
A recent Globe and Mail article offers this definition:
“Blockchain technology is a way of storing and sharing information across a network of users in an open virtual space. Blockchain technology allows for users to look at all transactions simultaneously and in real time. Additionally, since transactions are not stored in any single location, the information is almost impossible to hack.”
Since there’s been so much talk about potential job losses due to the growing use of automation and other forms of technology, it’s a pleasure to talk about the upside — some of the emerging job opportunities linked to blockchain technology and/or cryptocurrencies that we can anticipate.
Seven Employment Opportunities Related to Blockchain Technology and CryptoCurrencies
Since the blockchain and cryptocurrencies are technical, it makes sense to start with the most obvious employment opportunities – the technical ones. There’s a great need for developers and programmers who understand blockchain technology. Part of the problem is that the supply of these subject matter experts (SMEs) is less than their availability. Professors are not teaching it because it’s a field that’s changing constantly. These rapid changes mean that the professors’ lecture notes can become obsolete too quickly. From a practical perspective, it’s not smart to teach courses where you’re constantly updating your lecture materials. Many university professors and college instructors prefer to teach content that’s more “evergreen” and can be reused for a while. Plus, the people who have a solid grip on this content are probably too busy using their knowledge in industries that are more lucrative than college and university campuses.
2) Financial Services (including Accounting/Audit)
Since cryptocurrencies are linked to financial transactions it’s no surprise that there are job and career opportunities that are linked to blockchain technology. Some of these opportunities are in Fintech, which involves computer programs and other technology used to support or enable banking and financial services.
By design, blockchain transactions are linked to every single transaction record that came before them, so no blockchain record can be changed after it has been entered. This is where the term ‘chain’ comes from. More importantly, this implies irreversibility. The concept of irreversibility is extremely important in the field of accounting. For example,
“Within the context of an audit, all relevant transactions would be irrefutable if they were on a blockchain—multi-party involvement would guarantee that they would not have been changed in any way. That will not leave much left for accountants to audit … blockchain will enable more connected and more reliable transactions, requiring less manual intervention.” (Read more about blockchain and the implications for accounting here.)
The Fintech and traditional financial services sector have been exploring the use of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain as a way to improve and modernize existing business models and transfer assets securely and in a traceable manner (read this article to see how Citibank, UBS, and other global banks are using blockchain technology).
3) Food and Agriculture
There are ways that the food and agricultural industries may improve due to these technologies. The blockchain has features that enable a supply chain to deal with food-safety problems much more efficiently. For example, “Wal-Mart, which sells 20% of all food in the U.S., has [just] completed two blockchain pilot projects. Before using the technology, Wal-Mart conducted a traceback test on mangoes in one of its stores. It took six days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes to trace the fruit back to its original farm. … By using blockchain, Wal-Mart can provide all the information the consumer wants in 2.2 seconds.” (click here for more details). When problems can be identified quickly, resources can be deployed to solve the problems in a timely manner. Another benefit is that these technologies have the potential to Uberize the industry by eliminating middlemen and lowering the fees associated with transactions.
Blockchain technology can also be useful for consumers. By scanning a QR code with a smartphone, information including an animal’s date of birth, their use of antibiotics, vaccinations, and where the livestock was harvested can easily be displayed for the consumer.
Often, people who argue against the use of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin talk about the ease with which identities can be masked online and encourage criminal behaviour. My understanding is that this is less true of bitcoin but potentially more likely with other cryptocurrencies. Interestingly, the use of blockchain technology has the potential to eliminate systemic inefficiencies and fraud. The fact that all the transactions contained in the blockchain, a linked system of information that’s secure and transparent, throughout the entire lifecycle of a transaction makes it an extremely practical solution for the shipping and freight industry. Once a shipment is documented on a blockchain, nobody can dispute the validity of the transaction or manipulate the records. Practically speaking, this means that once transactions are noted, ‘smart’ contracts can release any payments that are in escrow which will reduce the time and expense associated with intermediary processing.
For example, in 2015, the FBI estimated that cargo theft is responsible for annual losses of about $30 billion (USD). Cargo includes any commercial shipment that is transported from point A to point B via trucks, planes, trains, ships, etc. These losses/thefts mean that fraudulent middle-men/middle entities are driving up the costs associated with shipping by at least 20%. Just as with insider threats, these cargo-related thefts are under-reported so that the companies involved can avoid reputational damage, embarrassment, higher insurance rates, bad press, etc.
UPS is heavily invested in blockchain technology which should enable a more efficient and cheaper system of managing logistics. Other startups and incumbent parties are also working toward implementing this technology. Organizations and individuals involved in insurance, audits, payments, and customs brokerage may also find advantages associated with blockchain technology.
5) Voting Management
The integrity of voting systems and voting management is another area that can benefit from the tamper-proof quality of blockchain technology. In addition to elections, voting by directors and shareholders is important companies’ decision-making processes, mergers and acquisitions, and other verdicts. Voting by proxy is practical and convenient but it can be vulnerable to manipulation.
Anyone who has immigrated from certain countries or who has conducted business across international borders has probably experienced the inconvenience and costs associated withcurrency exchange and moving money across borders.
Easier cross-border payments and financial transactions is a real advantage of cryptocurrency technology. The current processes and systems used for moving money across international borders are often burdensome and multi-layered. Using a blockchain can make it a simpler and cheaper process, with built-in accountability, verification, and assurance.
7) Various (non-technical) professional services
It’s anticipated that there will be a need for tax and accounting specialists, consultants who have expertise in strategy and technology, and business analysts in companies and organizations who are using blockchain technology (to read a little more about this click here and here). Some of this may be a shift from similar roles in more traditional lines of business but some of these opportunities may result from new opportunities.
For anyone who’s determined to keep up with new opportunities to offset changes in the workplace that may lead totechnology/automation driven job loss, I hope this article is a good starting point. If you’re interested in the HR-related implications of these emerging technologies and hiring staff to fill some of these roles, please read thisarticle.
If you’re an employee who wants to pivot into one of these emerging areas to stay relevant, or, if you’re an employer/hiring manager who wants to choose future staff wisely I invite you to connect with me privately. I offer a free 15 to 20-minute initial consultation by phone. Or, if you prefer, you can contact me by email, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
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