Automation is certain to displace millions of workers but also create millions of other jobs. Prepare now to keep working then.
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Nearly 40 percent of American jobs could be automated within the next 15 years, according to a report from PwC, and it isn’t just low-skilled workers who could be out of a job. Increasingly sophisticated machine-learning technology will also displace white-collar workers.
The exact impact of automation is unclear. Some anticipate that as with other technology, automation will cause a net increase of jobs in new industries that do not yet exist while others, notiably including Elon Musk and the organization Open AI, fear that artificial intelligence may have significant negative impacts on our society.
Whatever the outcome, you need actionable advice so you’re ready. Rather than fret about unforeseen consequences of automation, you can prepare yourself for coming technological change. Make a plan to develop your skills, stay open-minded and you might just be able to future-proof yourself from automation.
1. Adopt the AT&T model of self-guided education.
AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, employs hundreds of thousands of people. But despite employing so many talented individuals, the company’s leadership knows that they may not have the talent they’ll need to succeed in the future.
So, rather than fire existing employees in exchange for new folks with more advanced technical aptitude, AT&T gives existing employees a choice: Participate in educational opportunities provided by the organization and enhance your skills, or leave with a generous severance package.
Employees who opt into the training programs are offered a variety of in-person and online classes designed to develop key skills in areas like engineering and data analytics.
It’s unlikely that your organization can afford the same robust opportunities that AT&T offers employees, but you can apply the same strategies to your own career. To start, survey senior managers within your organization whom you trust. Ask them to highlight a handful of key skills that they anticipate will be necessary to succeed within the organization and industry in the coming years.
Next, find an online course or certification program and begin investing in improving your professional skills. In some cases, your employer may even agree to help you pay for online courses if they believe the skills will help you succeed within the organization.
2. Develop soft skills.
The need for rewarding human interactions is something that can’t be automated (at least not anytime soon). As Thomas Friedman argues in Thank You for Being Late, empathic professions will be more in demand than ever before thanks to automation.
Already, humans are beginning to feel the effects of interfacing with technology for hours on end. Thanks to technological developments like social media and SMS, the way we communicate with one another is increasingly impersonal.
As AI kicks off another wave of technological advancement, there’s no telling how human interaction may deteriorate even further.
Already, the United Kingdom has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to combat what some are calling a global epidemic brought on by technology.
This reality will mean that more and more people become hungry for human connection. As a result, the importance of soft skills will only increase in a world more and more dominated by artificial intelligence.
Develop soft skills by investing in activities and classes that bring you closer to meaningfully engaging with other people. That could be in the form of an acting class, a networking event, a public speaking lecture, or even sessions with a psychologist.
3. Take the initiative to experiment with new tech.
You might be tempted to bury your head in the sand to savor a few, final years of automation-free employment, but you’ll receive a rude awakening sometime in the not-so-distant future. Even if your day job doesn’t require you to experiment with the latest technologies, take it upon yourself to improve your technological literacy. Maybe it’s finally time to learn to code.
Understanding how new mainstream technologies work, and how your skills fit within the larger tech ecosystem can help you to anticipate what your next career move should be.
Udemy, Harvard and MIT all offer MOOCs (massive open online courses) designed to help lay people better understand important technological trends. Dive in and devote a few hours of your week to a class like this. Stay consistent and you’ll strengthen your professional skill set.
4. Lookout for new jobs created by innovative technologies.
In 1987, Microsoft released the first version of Excel, a spreadsheet software that has since become a staple technology for most knowledge workers. As a result of Excel and similar tools, nearly one million bookkeepers lost their jobs. But nearly two million business analysts and accountants founded work as a result of Excel and tools like it, according to an analysis in the Wall Street Journal.
We will likely see a similar story play out with regard to automation. Some workers will lose their jobs as a result of new technologies, but many others will find new opportunities. Automation will certainly cause millions of people to lose their jobs. Some of these people won’t find alternate work. This is a reality that our society must prepare for. However, if you prepare now you can position yourself for new jobs created by the automation boom.
The future is coming fast, so acquire new skills in order to take advantage of possibilities that others aren’t expecting. It’s about being proactive and putting in the extra work. Don’t hold back. It will be worth it in the end.