For all the predictions about the future of work, there is one overarching theme: uncertainty. We stand on the verge of great change and disruption, but we have no real idea what that will mean to our lives. All we do know is that artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and virtual reality are set to transform our world forever, in ways we can only begin to imagine.
All this uncertainty leaves us with big questions. Will my job still exist in twenty years’ time? What kind of work will be available? How will I retrain? Will I ever get to retire?
If you’ve asked yourself the same things, you’re not alone. Perhaps for the first time ever, nobody knows what type of work they’ll be doing twenty years from now. So how do we prepare ourselves for a future that we cannot possibly understand?
Careers are changing
Education isn’t something that ends when you leave school or university. For most of us, the learning really starts when we enter the world of work. Our careers are journeys of self-development from start to finish. As we move from job to job, we gain knowledge, skills and experience, and adapt seamlessly to technological change.
The future of work will be the same. You won’t come into the office one day to find that everything is different; instead, old practices will be phased out gradually and replaced with new ones. In ten years’ time, we’ll all be using technology in ways we can’t yet imagine, but this transition should happen at a pace that allows us all to keep up.
Focus on skills that matter
While developments in AI and robotics will lead to wide-scale automation, some things may forever be out of reach of the machines. Skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and decision-making are many decades away from being automated.
These uniquely human abilities are what will set us apart from our AI buddies, and it is these skills that we must all focus on and develop if we want to remain relevant in the future of work.
In addition to ‘soft’ skills, there will be an ever-increasing need for ‘hard’ skills related to the development and servicing of intelligent machines, robots and computer systems. In an ultra-competitive job market, the ability to code could be as fundamental as the ability to write.
Prepare to be augmented
While some jobs will be fully automated, in many cases, machines will augment human work by automating specific tasks. So rather than being out of a job, we’ll learn to work in tandem with intelligent machines.
Thankfully, the tasks that will be automated are probably the ones we like the least – the dull, repetitive, mindless stuff that can make work a drag. Not only will this unleash a wave of productivity, it will also make work more interesting and human.
Train and retrain
Automation will affect some areas more than others. Depending on the type of work you do, you may find that you need to change direction completely. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 The Future of Jobs report, 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022.
The idea of reskilling mid-career isn’t something new; many of us will have started our professional lives doing one thing before transitioning into another, often without planning to. The point here is that the rate of change, and the corresponding need to learn new skills, will increase rapidly in the coming years.
As technology changes the nature of work, whole new areas will spring up around more traditional industries. Again, this is nothing new – just look at the way social media and SEO have created jobs that didn’t exist twenty years ago. If you happened to be involved in marketing or e-commerce ten years ago, you would have been in a good position to become an expert in these areas.
Keep an eye on new trends, and familiarise yourself with new technological developments. What’s causing a buzz in your industry? How can you best position yourself to take advantage of emerging industries? To thrive in the future of work, you’ll need an agile mindset and a willingness to learn.
Learning and development
In order to cope with the demand for new skill sets, employers will have to take responsibility for training and re-skilling their existing workforce. Experts in emerging sectors won’t magically appear. When looking for new opportunities, go for organisations that invest in their people through learning and development.
In a wider sense, policymakers will have a role to play in ensuring that school syllabuses reflect the world we live in and that educational programs are available to help people learn the skills needed in a rapidly changing world.
The coming years will bring change on an unprecedented scale, leaving today’s workforce with legitimate concerns about the future. No matter what industry you work in, you will be affected by technological advancements and automation. We will all have to adapt in or order to keep up.
But change is nothing new. Think back to when you started your career – how has technology disrupted work since then? The way we work today, and the technology we use, has changed significantly in the last two decades. Did it ever feel like you couldn’t keep up?
The need for constant learning is nothing new either. Think back to your first full-time job – how is it different from your current job? How did you learn the skills you needed to bridge that gap?
What makes the future of work different to the past is the degree of change, both at an individual and societal level. As unskilled jobs are replaced by highly skilled ones, the responsibility for closing the skills gap will fall on us all – individuals, organisations and governments.
No matter what the future brings, change will be incremental. Nothing happens overnight. This fact alone should help us approach the future of work with confidence and optimism.