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Surviving the Job AI-pocalpyse

How to develop the skills you need to succeed in the next wave of automation

The next decade is set to bring significant challenges for the job market in the UK and around the world, with increasing pressures on workers.

Many of the jobs that exist today will be obsolete in a few decades. Estimates suggest about one-third of the current jobs in the UK could be automated by the 2030s. These risks are not limited to lower-paid professions; research suggests that the most at-risk industry is financial services, where up to 30% of jobs could be automated by 2030. High street banking could go the same way as the video rental store. People still watch movies, but the industry looks fundamentally different than it did only a few decades ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean every job will disappear, but the types of work could be radically different.

In the face of advancing digitization and automation of the workforce, here are seven key competencies to ensure your career's longevity and prosperity.

1. Manage motivation and focus in the attention economy

First, think about self-management and motivation in a digital or hybrid working environment. With the rise of remote work and online collaboration, workers are faced with a new set of challenges, including how to balance work and personal life, make health-promoting decisions and manage their own attention, focus and motivation in online environments full of distractions. Although there is an increasing awareness of health and wellbeing in the workplace, responsibility for this still tends to be delegated to individuals.

To develop these skills, find ways to prioritize health-promoting behaviours and set boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This could involve establishing a regular schedule, taking breaks to rest and recharge and setting limits on work-related activities outside of work hours. For others, it might mean setting work, personal and health goals and completing them at unconventional times because that’s what works best for them.

It is also important to reflect on attention and motivation in online environments. This could involve using tools to limit distractions, such as website blockers or time-tracking apps, or finding ways to break up work tasks and maintain focus throughout the day. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and learning what works best for you is an ongoing process that takes fine-tuning and refinement.

2. Cultivate creativity and innovation

There is an ongoing debate about the ability of AI to be creative, and another broader philosophical debate about human creativity. Irrespective of that, novel, interesting, unique and attractive ideas, and the human process involved in creativity, is far from being automated. As automation continues to advance, workers who are able to think originally, come up with creative solutions and communicate and execute those ideas, will be highly valued.

Creative ideas are a great start, but the most challenging (and valuable) part of them is explaining those ideas to others, coming up with a plan and finding a way to implement them with a team. Some people who have the best ideas struggle to explain or convince others of their value or come up with a concrete plan of action.

Alongside the capacity to be creative and innovative, it is essential to express and explain ideas in a relatable and meaningful way. This is particularly important in a hybrid or remote work setting where communication can be more challenging or asynchronous.

3. Develop deeper digital literacy

Digital literacy is not just about having a basic understanding of digital tools and applications. As additional layers are built on previous generations of technology, a deeper understanding of computer systems and how they work will be an increasingly valuable asset. The future of automation means that the ability to communicate effectively with computers and possess technical problem-solving skills when things inevitably go wrong will be increasingly valuable.

Understanding how different systems work, how and where data is stored and how to manage files and work with different computer systems are basic digital skills that many (irrespective of age!) would benefit from. As computer systems become more user-friendly, even basic knowledge and digital literacy will be a huge advantage in using the next wave of automation tools effectively.

While online courses, tutorials and formal education are valuable for developing digital literacy, practical experience is equally important. Seek out opportunities to work with different tools and computer programs, and actively seek ways to put their capabilities into practice. This could involve taking on new projects or responsibilities at work, learning from others with technical knowledge and trying out new applications and technology (see #6 for additional ways to approach this).

4. Improve digital and remote communication skills

Effective communication is crucial for success in any work setting, but it becomes even more important in hybrid or remote work environments. With distance and other factors creating communication barriers, workers need to seek out tools and technologies that can facilitate effective communication and collaboration with remote colleagues. Video conferencing, instant messaging or project management software are examples of tools that can help workers stay connected and informed.

However, simply relying on technology alone is not enough. Make an effort to build relationships with remote colleagues and foster a sense of community and teamwork across different locations. This involves setting clear expectations, being responsive and taking the initiative to connect with others. Building strong relationships and a sense of shared purpose can help stay motivated, engaged and productive in a hybrid or remote work setting.

5. Find and critically evaluate information

The digitization of everything, from finance and commerce to information and social networks has made seemingly unlimited information available, but that does not always mean it is easy to find. Filtering through disinformation, misinformation, propaganda and spam to find good information is a task that is incredibly challenging for both humans and computers.

The ability to find and critically evaluate information, and then use that information at work is a skill that will hold its value incredibly well in the coming decades.

While traditional search engines like Google can be useful for finding information, platform-specific search tools like Google Scholar, Trends or Images can have their own uses in finding more specialized or targeted information. It's important to understand how to effectively use these tools, including how to refine search queries, use Boolean operators, and filter results to find the most relevant and reliable information (if you don’t know what a Boolean operator is, ask your favourite search engine).

In addition to traditional search engines and platform-specific tools, social media platforms can also be useful in finding local or social information. However, it is necessary to critically evaluate the information found on social media, as their reliability and accuracy can vary widely. Ensure you always verify the information you find by checking multiple sources and consulting with experts in the field or trusted colleagues and contacts to critically evaluate information and sources. The rise of deepfakes, photo and video filters and generative AI means spotting fakes and disinformation (and understanding how these are generated) will be an increasingly important capability.

6. Work with automation tools

Automation will replace many tasks, so understanding how to use automation tools is a future-proof career pathway. Those who can effectively communicate with computers and use automation tools are, and will continue to be, highly sought after. Fortunately, many automation tools no longer require advanced technical knowledge or coding skills. User-friendly improvements such as drag-and-drop interfaces, natural language processing, pre-built templates and built-in guidance make automation tools accessible to a wider range of users. Tasks that used to require a team of specialists, such as building a website with e-commerce and social features, can now be completed by a non-technical user in just one day. However, using these tools effectively does take time, practice and familiarity.

To develop these skills, focus on building a practical understanding of how these systems work, as well as their limitations and potential biases. By gaining hands-on experience with digital technologies and computer systems, you can build up more confidence and improve your skills in a more practical and meaningful way.

7. Develop your own interests and connect with people

Thinking about learning how to use advanced computer programs or automation tech might seem intimidating, overwhelming and confusing, with the most difficult part being knowing where to start. So instead of approaching the problem from the perspective of “today I’m going to learn about automation”, approach it from the perspective of your own interests and what tools are available.

Instead of approaching the problem from the perspective of “what computer programs are going to be most in-demand in 10 years”, think in terms of “what digital tools can simplify my work, save me time or help me focus on the parts of work that I enjoy the most”.

Computers are not always the best way to learn about these tools. Try talking to other people who share your professional interests or hobbies and ask for their tips and techniques. Attend workshops or talks and join social groups online or in your local community. Social learning is still an incredibly powerful tool that is not yet possible to automate, and one of the best ways to learn what might be most interesting and relevant to you.

User-friendly AI automation tools will continue to change the job market in the UK and around the world. Many tasks that are still completed by people will be automated, but that doesn’t mean that jobs will disappear: it means that new skills and competencies will be necessary.

Remember that a significant portion of automation will be driven by demand, and many of those demands will come from workers themselves. To adapt to the job market, it's important not only to react to new technology but also to use it to your advantage. Identify and utilize tools that automate tasks that you find least enjoyable; this will increase your productivity and give you more time to focus on tasks that require creativity, collaboration, passion and innovation.

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