Don’t fear the machines. Exploit them.
You may have heard of the McKinsey report predicting that up to 45 percent of jobs could be automated over the next decade, using largely-existing technology. And that unlike previous waves of automation, this would affect white-collar professionals as well. People like you.
Well, that was the headline. If you actually read the report, McKinsey only claimed that 45 percent of job-related tasks could be automated, and since most jobs consist of multiple tasks very few would disappear altogether.
There are exceptions, however. Many low-skilled migrants to Australia — often refugees — gain an economic foothold by working long hours as taxi or Uber drivers. The arrival of self-driving cars is going to destroy that industry, and I feel really sorry for the drivers, many of whom have no other options.
But for the rest of us, what’s the best strategy for coping? Here’s my recommendation …
- Identify something you’re good at — something which isn’t likely to be automated — and get better at it. Ideally be the best at it, especially in winner-takes-all industries. Training courses, textbooks, 10,000 hours of practice, whatever it takes.
- Use technology to amplify what you do. Become familiar with the available tools, and if necessary develop you own. You want to become as productive as several unassisted humans.
Follow those guidelines and you’ll survive while your less-productive work-mates are culled. Ignore them, and — if you’re lucky — you’ll find yourself starting from scratch in a new industry.
If you’re unlucky, there may not be a new industry that needs your skills. Past waves of automation have always created new jobs for the displaced workers, but that’s not guaranteed. After all, horses didn’t survive the invention of the internal combustion engine.