5 Ways to Prepare Yourself for the Future of Work
I’ve been avidly researching what the world of work will look like in the next couple of decades, and to what extent we’ll need to adapt how we approach our careers and how we present ourselves to our current and potential employers.
Do we need to worry? Well, we need to be aware of some certainties. A McKinsey & Company study found in January that about 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be computerised. Plus it’s becoming common knowledge from numerous studies that 20-somethings entering the job market can easily expect to have up to 10 jobs in their working lifetime. The term ‘portfolio career’, which barely existed 10 years ago, is now everyday speak. A recent PwC report forecasted huge growth in the freelance and contract market over the next few years, with 46% of the HR professionals surveyed predicting that at least a fifth of their workforce will be made up of contractors or temporary workers by 2020.
Happily there are still several types of work and professions where little can replace the invaluable human element. Think therapy, emergency service or social or mental health work. Think jobs that require significant levels of creativity, relationship-building and service roles involving helping people in urgent, unexpected situations.
Either way, my research reminds me that we need to think very hard about what we as individuals have to offer, and we have to prepare ourselves for a very different world of work, if not for our own careers then for the younger people in our lives who we advise and nurture.
And it’s not just artificial intelligence and robots that are changing the future of employment. A 2016 World Economic Forum report reminds us of other drivers of change like climate change, the rise of the middle class in many emerging markets, aging populations and the changing aspirations of women.
So what do we need to be doing?
In my mind, the first priority is to understand yourself better and what you have to offer as a person (not just your formal education or hard skills), and the second is to use that knowledge to increase your levels of flexibility and adaptability, even versatility.
Even bigger than both of those priorities is a shift in our employment expectations and work-life outlook. A new book The 100 Year Life by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott really drums it home that it’s just not relevant anymore to think of our lives in the three traditional chunks we’ve grown up with: Education, Work/career and Retirement. This thinking, they argue, must give way to a far more flexible multi-stage work-life approach. The whole structure will change in terms of how we build our careers around family patterns, more fluid home and work locations and increased life expectancy.
- Get your story straight. What do you have to offer the world? What does your unique mix of life-experience, relationship history (family and friends!), part time jobs, education, extra-curricular activity and hard and soft skills all say about you and your outlook on life. When you talk about it, do you give off an energy that people want to be part of?
- Know what’s behind it: be clear with yourself and others about your values and your purpose. What drives you in life? What can you NOT have in your life? What do you expect from people and partners you work with and for? How would others describe you?
- Get curious: what do you still want to learn, in and out of work? Whether you’re 25 or 55, what skills or knowledge do you still want or need to develop to fulfil your personal life-goals? Do you ever express that enthusiasm when you talk to potential employers?
- Get skilled up! What are doing about that? Who are you talking to who already works in that field so that you can get inspired for your own plan?
- Know your market: In the industry or profession you’re either in, or want to be in, which roles are growing and which are declining? Have you asked anyone? Are you prepared for change even once you get the job? Can you articulate your transferable skills and can you use them to adapt?
As futurist Faith Popcorn puts it, to stay ahead we need to focus on our ability to continuously adapt, engage with others in that process, and most importantly retain a core sense of identity and values. And for students who have the world of work just ahead of them, it’s not just about acquiring knowledge, it’s about how to learn, and keep learning.
And that’s just it, we need to keep learning, and never stand still.
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