Surviving the future job market — how not to lose your job to a computer!

Not a day goes by without digital making headlines.

Right now, there are more mobile phones on the planet than people. Almost as many ‘things’ are connected to the Internet as human-operated devices. Advanced robots are operating alongside humans in more and more industries.

But I doubt the full gravity of the situation has hit home for many people. What we’re witnessing is an inflexion point in history. We haven’t just flipped from analog to digital; we’ve shifted from a human-driven world to one driven by information.

What does this mean for me as employee or employer? What will happen if I just carry on doing my highly skilled forecasting job without the use of analytics, safe in the knowledge that I’m pretty good at it?

Fact is, we don’t have the choice of sitting idly by as digital reengineers the world.Many high-profile jobs of today didn’t exist five years ago, e.g. iOs developers, data scientists and user experience (UX) designers. All around us, machines are starting to take the jobs of humans, putting the squeeze on all of us to learn new skills. In the United States, 47% of jobs may be computerized within a decade or two!

Highly process-driven and manual jobs will be the first to go. Automation and big data analytics are disrupting the ways in which logistics, transportation, administrative and office support are delivered. Relying on individual store managers to do stock replenishment is almost unthinkable when you consider that computer-generated insights are starting to beat human decision-making almost every time.

Jobs relying on human perception, creative and social intelligence and some degree of management capability will be harder to replace, but with the rise of artificial intelligence the human advantage won’t last forever.

Out of all the challenges occupying CEOs’ minds, talent and human capital is at the top globally — so we had better believe the squeeze will come from the top. In 2012, the value of work performed through online labor platforms like Elance and Odesk (such as copywriting or programming) topped $1 billion for the first time, and is predicted to reach $5 billion by 2018.

What is your response to this?

In my experience, the best thing to do when faced with any threat — perceived or real — is to come to a full understanding of it. Digital work disruption occurs on five main levels:

  • It drives open ecosystems of work, enabling flexible engagement of outside resources, greater portability of skills and the formation of digital talent hubs. A lot of organisations employ crowdsourcing to help them execute on short-term or project requirements, but digital makes it that much easier to leverage a global talent pool.
  • We also witness fluidity in industries as regards the delivery of education and training. As universities struggle to adapt their classic degreed model that under-prepares job candidates and incurs exorbitant fees, alternative models are emerging in the form of open education and massive open online courses (MOOCs).
  • Digital also disrupts traditional ways of organizing work, leading to the collapse of siloes and hierarchies as well as new leadership and management styles.
  • Digitally-enabled talent further transforms work practices, with human-robot collaboration (robots do the heavy lifting and precision tasks), gaming-infused work practices (rewards encourage task completion), automated analytics-based decision-making (enabling experimental and iterative work) and work-life integration (enabling asynchronous and distributed work).
  • Digital demands (and enables) a different workforce — favoring different work skills and mind-sets.
  • Digital employers compete on democratized, customized work experiences — innovative employers vie to help workers meet the changing requirements of their careers by providing choice (e.g. in their place of work); facilitating ubiquitous and constant learning; and creating new physical and virtual workplace designs.

As these trends disrupt ever more jobs, what are the strategies employees can use to secure their future positions? Equally, as these trends affect work delivery, what are employers doing to secure appropriate skills?

Employees can take heart from the realization that digital does not only eliminate jobs, it also creates others while transforming or enabling some old jobs.

Generally, digital demands more brain and less brawn for most work. It goes without saying that digital literacy skills will be required for all. Less obvious are the abilities to create insights from data, collaborate, influence, market ideas and tell stories, lead at all levels, and build just-in-time skills. And, of course, you must cultivate the opposite of a precious mind-set, if you’re competing against an informally contracted, specialized, global skills base. Or a robot.

As concerns employers, they should take advantage of new sourcing strategies while enabling their current and incoming work force with the tools and techniques that will allow them to succeed and future-proof their careers. Figure out what skills will be required in the future and compete for them with appropriate work experiences. Mix your talent sourcing strategies according to your needs, and consider open ways of learning for your workforce.

* For a quick-view summary of some of the themes in this topic, watch this interview I gave alongside the recent University of South Africa (UNISA) Talent Management Conference.

What can someone in your industry or position do to embrace and adapt along with technological advancements?