• Future-proofing your career

    Concerned you’ll be replaced by a robot? Silke Colquhoun finds out how to ensure career longevity in the modern economy
    Future-proofing your career

    The one thing that may lead to a robot snatching your job is also the exact thing that could protect you from being replaced – being human! This may seem absurd in a time when artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning are expected to render nearly 50% of today’s employment activities obsolete by 2020, as predicted in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report.

    But, while as many as 7.1 million people could lose their jobs worldwide, we as human beings have certain capabilities that work in our favour when future-proofing our careers.

    Be human

    The goal is to protect (and possibly increase) your value within your career field in a rapidly evolving job market. So you need to ‘robot’-proof yourself.

    Machines used to be limited to replacing humans for routine and repetitive tasks, but they are now also able to take over sophisticated medical operations and interpret complex information.

    The lesson: Don’t try to compete with a computer. It will beat you at maths, statistics, data capturing, basic clerical and payroll functions, and many other tasks. Instead, find work that requires skills that can’t (yet) be automated. According to the WEF, some of the top skills by 2020 will be complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others and emotional intelligence. The most sought-after professionals will be those who combine their technical expertise (such as mathematical or ICT skills) with interpersonal ‘soft’ abilities.

    Find your passion

    ‘Ask yourself: Who am I? What do I want to do?’ says Dennis Stead, partner at PACE Career Centre. ‘It’s vital to find a job field that genuinely interests you. Being passionate about your work is the biggest driver for success.’

    Check out the national scarce-skills list (drawn up by the Department of Higher Education and Training) or the WEF study, which predicts a rise in computer, mathematics, architecture and engineering job families, and a decline in office and administration roles. But don’t choose a career field because you’re told it has potential, warns Stead. This could hamper your career by not engaging or stimulating you enough.

    He says: ‘Go with your passion. Whatever field you choose will open up a wide range of career opportunities and niche areas of specialisation.’

    Learn, study, grow

    ‘Bosses expect you to be a self-sustaining organism that is moving and growing. The days of being complacent and sitting in one job until retirement are over,’ says Stead. That’s where lifelong learning comes in.

    ‘One reason for continuous learning is to update your existing skills to stay current with technological and industry-specific progress,’ he says. ‘Another reason is upskilling and filling gaps in your current skills set to advance your career.’

    The learning process can take place anywhere, anytime and is increasingly individualised to suit tech-savvy people with short attention spans. Social media also plays a big role in knowledge sharing through blogs, video clips and tutorials.

    But it’s up to each individual to choose between the traditional programmes at tertiary institutions and the huge offering of distance learning, short courses, webinars, workshops, seminars and personal coaching.

    ‘Versatility is king today and will be in the future,’ writes Steve Cadigan a Forbes contributor. ‘An impressive résumé can get your foot through any door, but it’s an ability to quickly learn new skills and apply them that will make you an indispensable employee.’

    Connect and engage

    A solid support network remains essential, as it allows you to find out about job opportunities, stay abreast of trends, understand the market and use word-of-mouth recommendations. Start by building on relationships with family, friends and acquaintances; then also surround yourself with colleagues, experts and industry professionals. Attend conferences, training courses, trade fairs and networking events; use LinkedIn, WhatsApp and whatever else it takes to meet interesting people.

    Seek mentors to grow your career, motivate you and provide one-on-one guidance and reassurance. Hiring a business or life coach could further help in developing yourself, personally and professionally.

    Build your brand

    ‘Individuals need to become adept at building their personal brands and selling themselves in a fluid job market,’ said Georgina Barrick, divisional MD at ADvTECH Resourcing. ‘Reputation management, customer relations and negotiation will be key to the worker of the future.’

    Everything you do – your CV, the way you communicate, dress, speak, write and use social media – cultivates your personal brand and reputation. This unique public image of you is increasingly important in the ‘gig’ economy, where jobs are shifting from fixed, salaried employment to freelance and contract work with multiple income streams.

    The essence of future-proofing lies in your agility and openness towards change and continuous learning. If you keep abreast of technology and combine your technical (hard) skills with your human (soft) skills, you should be ready to forge your place in the rapidly changing world. Just remember to stand out as a creative individualist among soulless robots.

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