Five Ways the American Workforce Can Prepare for Automation – NOW

Brian David Johnson

The future of work is going to look very different than it does today. Significant advances in technology and shifts in economies and culture will bring about a new age of intelligent tools, robots and smart environments. All of these technologies will be aware. They will have the ability to make sense of their surroundings and they will be social with people who are using them. The rise of these sentient tools will have a significant impact on the global work force and education, leaving practically no industry unaffected.

“Recent advances in robotics, perception and machine learning, propelled by accelerating improvements in computer technology, are enabling a new generation of systems that rival or exceed human capabilities,” writes Jerry Kaplan in his book Humans Need Not Apply.

Mainstream predictions for the future of work can be bleak. Researchers at the University of Oxford in England estimate nearly half of all jobs in the United States are at risk of automation.  A recent McKinsey analysis of more than 2,000 roles across 800 occupations concluded that as much as $8 trillion in wages could disappear using existing technology.

But there is some good news! There’s still time to do something about it. The following are five things you can do to prepare for the coming future of work.

One: Be Human

Humans are awesome. The number one skill you can have to prepare for the future of work is your ability to be a human. It’s a skill that the machines of the future won’t be very good at. And, as it turns out, people like other people to be human as well!  But it’s not easy to be a good human. You have to work at it.

Humans have an incredible ability to communicate; even if we don’t speak the same language, we are quite adept at getting our points across and getting things done. Humans have emotional intelligence, sympathy and empathy – all traits that will be cherished in an age when we are increasingly surrounded by technology and machines.

Two: Collaborate

During the industrial revolution, workers were paid for what they could lift and carry, for doing repetitive labor on a massive scale. With the rise of the information age, people began being paid for what they knew, for their use of knowledge and ability to work with data. The information worker was born.

As we see the next industrial wave, we will find ourselves in the collaboration age.  People’s ability to collaborate with people (see point #1 again) and their ability to collaborate with robots and artificial intelligence will be highly valued skills.  Interacting with people from different backgrounds, domain, cultures and even people you don’t agree with will be sought after by teams that need to complete complex global tasks.

Five Ways the American Workforce Can Prepare for Automation – NOW

Three: Be Curious

Humans are inherently curious and creative. We are tinkerers and dreamers. We constantly ask, what if: What if humans could fly? What if we could cure polio? What if we went to the moon?  The engine of human ingenuity is powered by our desire to ask what if…

There is only one question that is more powerful than, “What if…?” and that’s, “Why?” It’s a question we all asked as kids, as we were getting to know the world around us. Many people seem to lose that skill of asking “Why?” as they get older. A constant and almost incessant need to question and understand will be a powerful tool for any job or career you might seek in the future of work.

Four: Re-evaluate

In the 20th century, people imagined that they would only have once career. They were a bus driver, a lawyer, a homemaker, a farmer, a construction worker. But as we moved into the 21st century, many have recognized that our careers will remain fluid throughout our lives. Far from being upset by this change, many have embraced and even demanded it. But how do we know what job will be our next? How to choose?

Thing is, you are more than just your job. Often, people don’t value their entirety of their whole life. You are a daughter or a son. You might be a mom or dad, a sister or brother. You are a weekend basketball player, a scrapbooker, a scout master, a dancer, a singer, a wannabe poet. Valuing your whole humanity will give you a broader view to re-evaluate your current and next career.  What do you want and who do you want to be can be two of the hardest questions you’ll ever have to answer…and the answers change as you move through life.

Five: Use Technology (not the other way around)

Very few jobs in the future will not be touched by technology. But it’s important to remember that it’s the humans who are in charge, not the technology. In a world of increasing technological complexity, many people feel overwhelmed, as if their lives are being run by the machines. It might feel this way but it’s not true. Technology doesn’t decide what it does… you do.

In your career, use technology, get comfortable with it, make sure that it’s working for you… not the other way around. Don’t be a passive participant in your future. Don’t let the future happen to you. Everyone needs to be an active participant in their future.

Ultimately all businesses are about people. They begin and end with people. There might be a lot of technology, processes and procedures in between, but it starts and stops with people. That’s the most hopeful thing about the future of work. Regardless of where tomorrow takes us, if we always make sure that humans are placed in the center then we’ll be on the right track.

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