In 2015, Gartner, an IT research and consulting firm, estimated that one third of all jobs will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025 . The World Economic Forum is predicting a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” to take place between 2015 and 2020, where unprecedented developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and biotechnology will serve to eliminate upwards of 7 million jobs, shared between white and blue collar workers .
Others hypothesize that those numbers are far too conservative, forecasting that one in two jobs will be replaced by a machine in the next 5 years. Add to this that global population growth and a volatile economy are tightening around an already-strangled job market, and you might very well be left shaking in your proverbial work boots.
Here’s the good news: People aren’t machines. They are living, breathing, thinking, creating beings that have immense ability to contribute – and there is infinite value in that.
The way to keep yourself current in an age where our own invented technologies and economic systems threaten to make you replaceable is by growing your potential in four key areas:
- Get comfortable with machines
- Grow your people skills
- Focus on skills that last
- Continue your professional development
Let’s look at each of these…
#1. Get comfortable with machines
It takes the average human being 18 months of concerted effort and observation to piece together a few simple words, and roughly another 6 years to master all the speech sounds as well as the rate, pitch, and volume of speech. By age eight, most children can use complex and compound sentences and are able to carry on a conversation with an adult fluently .
But what if you aren’t trying to communicate with a person anymore? What if you NEED to communicate with a machine?
Even if you currently don’t find machines to be an integral part of your inner communication circle, they will elbow their way in eventually. Far better to extend an early invitation using a few simple strategies:
(1) Download new programs and apps and learn how to use them
Whether related to your work or not, exploring new programs and technologies develops within you a “technological intuition” which will transfer across softwares. Most tech designers strive to make their products intuitive, but they will only function that way to a person who has started to learn the language programmers and designers are speaking. As you are learning, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most apps and programs have people available either through web chat or phone to field questions and offer support.
No one would criticize a toddler for fumbling through a sentence, and there is no need for you to feel self-conscious as you build a language and skill set around technology.
(2) Take online courses
Becoming acquainted with online learning opportunities opens you up to a new world of learning experiences.
Courses on almost every subject are available with a simple search and a click of the button, many are free, and the ones that are paid are generally for a low, comparatively nominal fee when compared to more traditional styles of learning.
When enrolled in online courses, you will often be required to download documents or submit work you have created. You will be exposed to different information platforms, learning modalities (such as webinars), and be required to contribute comments and ideas through different channels that increase your participation and learning. All these activities help to increase your technological dexterity – your ability to work with different programs simultaneously and seamlessly.
(3) Get involved with social media
Here’s the truth: many recruiters are looking at your social media profile before they even pick up your resume. Further, virtual networking is one of the easiest ways that you can connect yourself with employment opportunities, so employ a bit of strategy here: use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites to show what you know and what you can do. Post articles that are related to your field, publish articles around the ideas you have, comment intelligently on issues that others bring up, and follow thought leaders whose ideas and strategies speak to you. By positioning yourself in a network of like-minded individuals, you will find that your social media connections link you to opportunities you would have never found on your own.
#2. Grow your people skills
“There are two types of people — those who come into a room and say ‘Well, here I am!’ and those who come in and say ‘Ah, there you are.'”
As important as technological intelligence is, our ability to interact with others is also KEY to our success. Social intelligence, emotional quotient, intercultural competency – all of these help us to build productive relationships with others that are founded on trust and respect.
There is an African proverb that we love: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Indispensable people see that there is importance in both being able to go fast AND to go far…in other words, if you want to have the skills you need to progress, you need to have a healthy relationship with yourself AND a healthy relationship with others. The following three skills will help you:
(1) Develop an attitude that you are learning at work
Our attitudes are a relatively enduring organization of beliefs, feelings, and behavioral tendencies towards objects, groups, events, or symbols that hold social significance . While attitudes do not necessarily predict behaviour, they do influence the way we perceive, evaluate, and react to almost everything that informs our existence.
So, imagine what it might do for you if you saw yourself as a learner first while you are at work. It might make you reflect on your experiences differently (or maybe just start reflecting all together). It might make you pay closer attention to the interactions you have with colleagues and clients. It might make you more observant. It might help you find mentors who you wouldn’t normally notice.
And why not see if you can get your company on board with workplace learning? Work with them to create learning opportunities for yourself and other staff members. See if they will make time for “lunch and learn” sessions, or fund an online course subscription for you, or pay for you to attend different professional development sessions. If not, consider how you could engage these opportunities for yourself. Then, apply what you learn every day to see how it works – to see if you can make your systems and processes more efficient or more profitable. Share your progress with your supervisor or in your professional development plan.
When your company is aware that you are outwardly pursuing learning opportunities that contribute to your organization’s strategic outcomes, they will likely support your efforts and increase their investment in you.
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(2) Increase your intercultural competency and avoid judgment
“Multicultural” is one of the main words that people use when describing Canada – in fact, our diversity is one of the things that policy makers and citizens alike pride themselves on. But, in the workplace, diversity can be quite divisive because differences can be hard to understand and difficult to manage.
Building your ability to interact with people who are not like you is key in collaborative problem solving and in conflict resolution. And it comes down to two key skills:
Skill #1: Observation
“Watch and learn.” You’ve heard that one before, but it bears repeating. There is immense value in seeing – really seeing – how people behave. It doesn’t cost a thing, and you will learn much about human motivation, cultural norms, individual preferences, and acceptable social behaviours simply by sitting back and letting your curiosity guide your thoughts. Look for behavioural patterns rather than focusing on isolated events, and see if you can deduce how people attempt to fulfill the needs they experience.
Skill #2: Openness
Sometimes when we meet someone who is different from ourselves, we begin to think that there is something “wrong” with them for thinking or acting in a way that we wouldn’t. More often than not, this is simply untrue. Suspend your judgment and develop some flexibility in your thinking.
Choosing to be curious over choosing to be judgmental positions you to learn from the people around you and it forces you to embrace one key truth of life: Your way is not always the best way.
When you want to learn more about the behaviours you see, ask people why they do the things that they do using a tone of sincere curiosity – and you can only employ that tone if you are sincerely curious. The words, “I’ve been watching you and I’ve noticed that at lunch you always disappear for a few minutes and when you come back, you look different. What is it that you do everyday?” can be delivered in a threatening or accusatory tone, or they can be said with genuine wonder and sincere intent. And you can bet that the response you get will reflect accordingly.
(3) Provide a great customer experience
When Jennifer got married, she received this piece of advice: “Do something each day that will make your spouse’s day.” Now, we’re not saying that you need to “make the day” of everyone you serve at work, be they clients or colleagues (but…if you could…); we are, however, inviting you to start considering what you can do to be helpful and how you can make others feel valued.
Often our efforts to build others up will begin with the words we use, and we can choose to be strategic about our word choice. Because the worth of people is often measured in terms of what people can DO (their instrumental value) and what people ARE (their intrinsic value), two strategies for using words to build people up naturally follow:
1. Point out something they DO well, and be specific about it:
- “The report that you created covered everything that the client wanted and even anticipated some of the things that they didn’t specify. Can you tell me how you learned how to be so attentive?”
- “You have really worked hard to create something that will add value to people’s lives and I’m so glad to be a small part of this. Thanks for inviting me on board.”
2. Complement them on who they ARE, and get detailed:
- “Your kindness helps to keep our team together, and it makes this place a great and welcoming place to work. Thanks!”
- “You have such a great perspective on how to manage this project efficiently and I really appreciate your ability to see the end from the beginning.”
If you see that people feel like their efforts aren’t being recognized, focus on “DO.” If it seems that people need more recognition regarding the personal characteristics they bring to the group, turn your words toward “ARE.” Either way, your sincerity will be felt and you will begin building a relationship of trust and support. Who knows? You might just start receiving this kind of feedback for yourself!
#3. Focus on skills that last
Some perennial skills last the test of time, transfer across roles, and even jump between industries, three of which we will discuss here:
(1) Become a problem solver
Employers want people who can spot a problem before it has an effect. They want people who can develop solutions. They want people who know how to gather the resources and people needed to implement those solutions. And they will always want people who know how to oversee that process with professionalism and efficiency. Find yourself with that skill set, evidence it, and learn how to communicate it, and you will always find yourself with more than enough work.
(2) Think about things in terms of systems, not events
You know the saying, “Can’t see the forest through the trees?” Getting stuck on the details is an easy way to mire down your career. Start asking yourself, “How does this task/piece/process fit into the whole?” When you can start to see how different units work together to achieve business outcomes, you become the kind of “big picture thinker” that organizations covet.
(3) Manage your emotions
Emotional self-control is essential to maintaining positive relationships with the people around you. Start learning how to do this well by observing yourself. Get curious. When you find yourself frustrated, how do you feel physically? Tight jaw? Clenched hands? Are there consistent triggers that bring certain emotions on? What are the best ways for you to use your emotions to your benefit and to the benefit of those around you? If you find that an emotion isn’t helpful, acknowledge that, then replace that feeling with something that will be useful. Instead of choosing anger, choose curiosity. Instead of needing to be right, desire to be helpful. Small paradigm shifts can have a large impact on the way you behave and on the way others perceive you and your abilities.
#4. Continue your professional development
What if you spent 15 minutes everyday learning something new about your job or your industry? How long do you think it would take you to become an expert? 15 minutes per day translates to a little more than 90 hours of self-directed professional development over one year. Do that for, say 5 years and you will have accumulated just over 455 hours of training, and you can almost guarantee that you would be hundreds of hours ahead of other people in your field.
Work on staying aware of industry trends, find out what is happening in your field and who the innovators are. Learn what they are doing and see how you might be able to apply their methods to the situations you find yourself in. When you have a continuous learning approach to life, you will find that new ideas and methods almost gravitate toward you. Grab them by the tail and see where they will take you.
Onward and upward
In this post we’ve covered ways you can make yourself indispensable in your industry. Here’s the point form version:
- Get comfortable with machines
- Download new programs and apps and learn how to use them
- Take online courses
- Get involved with social media
- Grow your people skills
- Develop an attitude that you are learning at work
- Increase your intercultural competency and avoid judgment
- Provide a great customer experience – “DO” and “ARE”
- Focus on skills that last
- Become a problem solver
- Think about things in terms of systems, not events
- Manage your emotions
- Continue your professional development
- 15 minutes per day
Which ONE of these can you integrate into your life today? What will you commit to knowing that your efforts now will enable you to handle any change in the economy because you will have the skills that you need to adapt and create opportunity?
With a little effort, that kind of confidence is entirely within your reach.
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 Elkins, Kathleen. (May 2015). “Experts predict that robots will take over 30% of our jobs by 2025 – and white collar jobs aren’t immune.” http://www.businessinsider.com/experts-predict-that-one-third-of-jobs-will-be-replaced-by-robots-2015-5. Current as of November 22, 2016. Chang, Lulu. (January 2016). “Robots expected to replace some five million jobs by 2020.”
 Baby Centre Advisory Board. (Updated October 2015). “Your child’s talking timeline.”
Hogg, M., & Vaughan, G. (2005). Social Psychology (4th edition). London: Prentice-Hall. P 150.