Will a computer be taking your future job?

At the start of each brand new year it’s always a good idea to do a bit of personal SWOT analysis. But have you really considered the threat of technology? Are your strengths going to future-proof your career? Will you need to work on your weaknesses to find a role within a world of automation?

It’s more than 30 years since Time magazine famously named the computer as its ‘Man of the Year’. Our square-faced companions have been encroaching further into our working lives ever since.

Technological unemployment, as it’s known, has long been key issue in the word’s industrialised nations. Between 1900 and 2000 the percentage of Americans employed in agriculture decreased from 41% to just 2%, while the number of US manufacturing workers has fallen by two thirds since World War II.

American employees are by no means alone in their predicament: according to a joint study by Oxford University and Deloitte, about 35% of UK jobs are at high risk of being taken over by computers during the next 20 years. The study ranked around 400 professions against a series of key skills, including social perceptiveness, negotiation and persuasion, to see which were most under threat.

The roles of financial officer, bookkeeper and legal secretary came top, with a 97-99% risk of being automated over the next two decades. Meanwhile, social workers, teachers and therapists can rest easy, with the chance of these roles being ceded to a machine calculated at around 1% or less.

Most roles fall between these two extremes, but the good news here is that there are plenty of ways you can future-proof your career against the inexorable march of the machines.

To start with, you can position yourself in an industry where there is expansion and therefore less need for cost-cutting and automation. Areas such as health and nutrition, sustainability and clean energy are likely to be important sources of job creation going forward.

You should also think about the kind of soft skills you need to be developing alongside your core professional competencies. Think problem-solving, adaptability, and communication, in particular, listening and negotiation skills.

Then of course there is the ‘can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ argument: as long as there’s technology, there will be a need for people who can harness and interpret that technology. It’s never too late to start picking up basic skills in areas such as coding and website design. Codeacademy.com is just one of a number of free, online platforms that can help get you started.

As history has shown us, professions and entire industries will come and go over time. However, by embracing this technological shift and maintaining a broad skill set, you can stay one step ahead of the curve.

Reference: Bcdwire; NPR; BBC; Huffington Post

07 Jan 2016
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