The traditional workplace is transforming, and fast. Huge technological advances, the move away from the conventional 9 to 5 as well as other working habits and outsourcing work to international freelancers are all contributing to a mass disruption in the job market. Daily reports of machines taking over our jobs, driving our cars and becoming our companions and carers capture the attention of the media and the imagination of the public at large.
Many of us worry that in less than a decade our jobs will become automated, taken over by artificial intelligence, or outsourced for a much cheaper fee to the globalised job market. In many working environments, machines are already conducting basic tasks such as data mining and writing press releases. In coming years, technology is sure to encompass more human jobs, but how much of that should we really worry about?
There is no question that machines have replaced many traditionally-human work activities. Jobs that used to take up to several days can now be completed in minutes – and more accurately - due to huge leaps in artificial intelligence (AI). The implications of this, however, are not all negative.
For a start, many of these now-automated tasks are repetitive and boring, requiring minimal human brain power. The income of AI has freed up more time to allow employees to concentrate on more challenging and rewarding tasks, such as interacting with clients. Further, and more significantly, machines cannot do everything. The automation age, however progressed it becomes, will also require a range of human skills, from technological expertise to social capabilities. Relieving the workforce of more mundane tasks is allowing us more time to concentrate on what we are really good at as humans – emotional intelligence, creativity and problem-solving. In other words: skills that can’t be replicated by a machine.
And of course, this is key in a world where human attributed skills are becoming more important than ever. Honing and nurturing these ‘human' skills is vital to future-proofing your job.
The Future of Jobs Report identified ten key skills needed to thrive in tomorrow’s job market. Amongst problem-solving and critical thinking, one of these included coordinating with others or collaboration. Our ability to connect with others; to harness the power of combined minds that each work distinctively, is unique to our human capability. The breakdown of silo mentalities is not only key but vital in a digital age that is defined by speed and collaboration. Bold new approaches are necessary to drive large-scale innovation and these can only be achieved through an emphasis on collaboration and the exchange of knowledge in cross-functional teams. Working with new people from different sectors is a great way to breathe innovative ideas into old ways.
Creativity is also key to increasing our chances of success. Those who can spot new opportunities and innovate, especially in a world where things change so fast, are likely to do well. Digitisation places a premium on creativity and initiative because computers can’t readily replicate these skills. Thinking about those capabilities core to the human experience, such as analytic skills, creative skills, self-presentation and being able to connect with others and persuade is crucial to maintaining success in the digital world.
The ability to adapt and actively seek out new knowledge is another must in our changing world. Curiosity and a focus on constant learning is key, skills that aren't updated become out of date quickly. It’s no longer good enough to rely on traditional ways of doing things, or to work according to what you learnt when first starting out. We all need to develop new skill sets and potentially undertake further training and achieve additional credentials.
At the core of this is being technically able. A large percentage of occupations now include many work activities that are automatised. Last year, McKinsey research suggested that 70 percent of the job activities in 20 percent of occupations in the US could be automated if companies adapted currently available technologies. Furthermore, ‘virtual teams’ and virtual communication is happening more and more. Meaning, we will see an increased amount of people working alongside machines. In order to embrace the digital world, we must all – not just those with a technical degree - become more digitally savvy. There are plenty of courses, many free ones included, to update your tech skills and prepare yourself in the digital age.
Technology is also fuelling the decline of the 9 to 5. Cloud-based services and collaboration tools, for example, are allowing employees to work remotely and therefore more flexibly. As the cost of such technology continues to reduce, the number of flexible workers is expected to rise further. This, combined with a third of employees favouring flexibility over a pay rise has seen a mass increase in companies offering flexibility to attract and retain talent. Increased flexibility is expected to see a huge boost in productivity, which in turn, could see a decrease in working hours.
Above everything, taking your job into your own hands and riding the changes is vital. The chances are, your job won’t be the same as it is now in ten years’ time. You must be prepared to adapt and mould to the ongoing changes – equip yourself with the correct skills and embrace the change. Exciting times lie ahead; the future looks bright!