An article in The Economist last year compared the effect of this change to “a tornado, hitting the rich world first, but eventually sweeping through poorer countries too. No government is prepared for it.”
Although technological progress tends to deliver long-term improvement in people’s lives and careers, it can mean short-term pain, particularly in certain areas of the workforce.
So if even governments aren’t prepared, then what about individuals? What can you do to protect yourself and your career from the coming tornado?
The Rise of Automation
First, let’s look at what the changes are likely to be.
A big trend is automation. Right now it’s affecting mostly industrial workers and other manual laborers, but expect that to change. The Economist article pointed out that as computers get more powerful and can crunch more and more “big data”, they’ll be able to perform ever more complicated tasks, putting white-collar jobs at risk too.
“Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can. By comparing reams of financial or biometric data, they can often diagnose fraud or illness more accurately than any number of accountants or doctors. One recent study by academics at Oxford University suggests that 47% of today’s jobs could be automated in the next two decades.”
The effects are already being felt in the world of IT, where less-skilled workers are seeing their jobs becoming obsolete.
“Routine information processing is in the bulls eye of automation,” MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson told The Wall Street Journal. “I think that’s only going to accelerate.”
In his recent book “Who Owns the Future?”, computer science pioneer Jaron Lanier lamented the destruction of middle-class jobs by the technology he once championed. He used the example of Instagram, which had only 13 employees when it was sold to Facebook for $1 billion. Kodak in its heyday employed 140,000.
So what can you do to navigate this increasingly uncertain future?
Become a Leader
Let’s stick to the world of IT for now. Although simple coding jobs are becoming more scarce, people with leadership skills continue to be in high demand.
In fact, tech industry representatives recently warned of a shortage of IT workers in the U.S. But the shortage applies specifically to highly skilled workers with degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects.
So if you develop your skills, gain qualifications and expand your leadership ability, you’ll be in better shape. The Wall Street Journal article made the point that although routine processing will be affected, “demand will grow for people with communication and leadership skills.”
Embrace Continuous Learning
The days when the education you gained as a child and young adult served you for the rest of your life are fast drawing to a close. The best leaders, of course, have always been relentless self-improvers, but in these days of accelerated change, continuous learning, education and development is now a must. Education still equips you to deal with life successfully, but you need to top up constantly.
The good thing is that it’s easier than ever to get the education you need. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) give you access to courses from some of the world’s top universities, either free or at low cost. They have their disadvantages, but they’re still a great way to gain new skills and retain your edge.
Find a Mentor
You won’t be surprised to hear us say that mentorship is another crucial strategy for future-proofing your career. After all, matching people with the best possible mentors is what we do here at Everwise.
But we have solid reasons for recommending mentoring.
One key role of a mentor, after all, is to guide you through difficult decisions and help you navigate the world successfully.
Also, experienced mentors often have their fingers on the pulse of key changes in the industry, and can help you to foresee the trends that could threaten your job in years to come.
And finally, mentors sometimes give practical help, using their influence and network of contacts to help their protégés find new jobs. In a world in which the ability to pivot frequently is likely to be increasingly important, it makes sense to have a mentor in your corner.