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Here's How to Future-Proof Your Job in the Age of Automation

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: April 27, 2018
Image credit: Leo Wolfert/Shutterstock

We've all wondered if our jobs are safe. So how exactly can you plan ahead to future-proof your job as automation goes mainstream? Here are five ways to get ahead no matter where your company or industry is at in its automation journey.

We've all wondered if our jobs are safe. Production line workers feared for their jobs during the first industrial revolution, and the impending fourth industrial revolution, which is upon us, is no different. Building on the technology and automation of the third revolution, the fourth is the convergence of the physical and digital worlds, and it is changing every industry.

What's different about this revolution, though, is the rate at which people's roles and duties are changing. ZipRecruiter's nationwide data report from December reveals two in five employed job seekers (41 percent) believe their current job will be automated within their lifetime.

This trend is understandably causing a lot of angst among workers who are worried about the security of their jobs. A survey by the Pew Research Center found Americans that Americans are roughly twice as likely to express worry (72 percent) than enthusiasm (33 percent) about a future in which robots and computers are capable of doing many jobs that are currently done by humans. 

But automation shouldn't be feared. In fact, workers across industries and organizational departments have more to gain if they respond to the bigger opportunity. Automation promises to remove the repetitive and mundane tasks from our jobs so we can focus on bigger strategies and initiatives that drive greater business value.

However, ensuring automation makes you irreplaceable, as opposed to replaceable, requires that you plan ahead and be proactive on both a professional and business level.

So how exactly can you plan ahead to future proof your job as automation goes mainstream? Here are five foolproof ways to get ahead no matter where your company, or industry, is at in its automation journey.

1. Re-think the robot ‘problem.’

Businesses both large and small will continue to automate whether you like it or not – it’s a key component to long-term business success. In fact, a recent McKinsey & Co. report concludes that 800 million jobs could be lost due to automation globally by 2030, including between 39 and 73 million in the U.S.

It's important to understand that this space is still extremely new, and all of us have the power to shape its discourse in our respective fields. Like we have witnessed throughout history, those who embrace change and approach uncertainty with a positive outlook are often those who win big. Change your perception and you change your outlook.

2. Be proactive and know your industry.

We often fear what we don't understand. This is especially the case when it comes to things that are out of our control. The fear of change can also be quite paralyzing. Often, our first instinct is to resist or ignore what's happening (e.g., the classic "wait and see"). But when it comes to any major technology trend, the "adapt or die" philosophy often rings true. Think about the companies that failed to adapt to the software age and are now struggling to reclaim their place.

Just like businesses should constantly strategize about how to survive in today's rapidly evolving technology landscape, employees do too. Knowledge truly is power today. Educate yourself about how automation is, or could impact your industry, and use this to better understand and shape your future in it. Read business, technology and trade news to get the full picture – don't just come at it from your department's lens. Then do a SWOT exercise of your role to identify what you need to do to eliminate the threats and make the opportunities a reality.

3. Build skill sets for the future.

The degree to which automation will impact jobs will vary greatly across the board, but over time, we will undoubtedly see a shift in the skill sets businesses require and demand from their workers. For example, all of Glassdoor's best jobs in America for 2018 showed an increased need for "soft skills," which includes things like leadership, effective communication, listening and collaboration.

Identify the skills that are hard to automate in your role and then focus on becoming an expert in them – this can be both people-based or business-based. Attend or facilitate training sessions or bootcamps to refine your skills and put them on your resume.

4. Become a strategic automation advisor.

Once you know what you need to do to excel at a professional level, make sure you also make this heard to the business or current employer. Ask the right questions, be vocal and start the conversations now no matter how touched or untouched your company or industry is from automation. By helping the company strategize, you will be able to actively demonstrate leadership and start to carve out what your role looks like.

5. Be agile and keep up-to-date with the latest technology.

Automation is still a very new technology, and your company is likely going to go through highs and lows as it rolls it out across various functions. The more knowledgeable you are with what challenges and opportunities others are experiencing – from a professional and business perspective – the more you will be able to adapt and make automation work for you, rather than against.

Final piece of advice: As automation becomes integral to company success, it's important for business leaders and workers alike to dig in, speak up and become part of the change.

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