I know my job is changing, but how much, how quickly, and how do I keep up?
WRITER: Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk
PHOTOGRAPHY: David Solm
My grandmother, 93 years young, worked on the assembly line in a Philips factory in Adelaide in the 1950s and 60s. It was a golden age of manufacturing, when such jobs seemed secure. But when automation arrived in the late 1970s, her job, along with hundreds of others, disappeared.
Throughout history, humanity has always experienced (and caused) changes that impact the way we live and work, yet it’s the pace of change that we see in today’s workforce that’s causing disruption. The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the internet-of-things are driving this change, and while each has the power to improve our lives, they’re also transforming the workforce at an unprecedented rate.
With suggestions of robots taking over, and predictions that upwards of 40 per cent of jobs will be automated in the next 15 years, it can be difficult to think constructively about the possible transition of our own careers.
More helpful, is to consider an analysis of US Census Bureau data that shows the trends in available and required jobs in the market. Roles are identified as cognitive or manual in nature, with tasks being routine or non-routine. Considering where we fit in these categories can help us consider what new skills we need to remain relevant and valuable. As manual-routine and cognitive-routine jobs are most suited to being automated, it makes sense to see how we can transition our skills to suit manual-non-routine, or cognitive non-routine roles.
Evolution is inevitable, but we can prepare for change. In my grandmother’s case, she transitioned from a manual-routine job in assembly line manufacturing, to a manual non-routine role as a carer for children with disabilities, a job she had until she retired. And, while it makes sense that a manual-routine assembly line job is replaced by an automated process, many traditional white-collar jobs are also likely to be on the line. It all comes down to the human element—just think of National Australia Bank’s announcement in February this year that 6000 employees would be let go because of task automation.
Jobs that require innately human skills are the way of the future.
Even highly paid roles, such as radiologists, may need to now transition, as we know that AI can more accurately interpret scanned results. Careers in law, where AI can do in seconds what can take paralegals hours or days are also in for a shakeup. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t need lawyers; it just means lawyers will need to rely more strongly on their human qualities.
And therein lies the key: human qualities. Developing social or ‘soft’ skills will be critical for future employment.
AI is acknowledged as being inferior to human intelligence in at least three ways—the ability to persuade and influence others; the ability to empathise; and the ability to teach others through role modelling, coaching and mentoring. Being able to hone attributes that are innately human—including creativity, empathy, problem-solving, collaboration and curiosity—will help us stay employable.
When you consider a key trait employers are looking for, the notion of ‘learnability’, a curiosity and thirst for new knowledge and skills, arises. Enter the rise of micro-credentials where you can ‘pick and mix’ courses to match job requirements, enabling accelerated skills, in digestible amounts, to deliver value quickly. Even just- in-time learning can help you gain new skills and quickly deliver value for a new role.
Increased digital fluency will be even more important as technological solutions permeate roles in all sectors of our economy; this presents specific challenges for those in our community who are not confident using technology. Addressing this situation requires investment from multiple sources to ensure these people aren’t excluded from the workforce in the future. However, in addition to domain or technical skills, developing skills that hold us in good stead in the non-routine category will become increasingly important.
Just as employees need to identify new learning opportunities for themselves, an employer also needs to take its workforce on a learning and development journey. Investing in an existing workforce, that understands the culture, history and purpose of the organisation, is more cost effective than attempting to find specialists with new niche skills and engaging in a talent war with other organisations. Businesses that invest in their people generally also offer more flexible working conditions, a more diverse workforce and are better prepared for an unknown future.
Is your job at risk?
According to the US Census Bureau, increasing automation is leading to a decline in routine jobs, simply because computers are able to complete these tasks more efficiently and accurately.
The types of jobs that are at risk are shown in the grid (right)—if your role sits in either the routine-cognitive or the routine-manual quadrants, it would be wise for you to start thinking about upskilling.
For those in either of the non-routine quadrants, the personal, human skills needed for these jobs are holding you in good stead for the future.
Either way, remember: proactive upskilling will always help you to stay ahead of the curve.
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