The future of work: Embrace the robots

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on how to stay relevant in the workplace as technology continues to advance towards the future of work.


We are gingerly emerging from the recession in Ireland and our mindsets around work are changing to reflect the upswing in the economy. No longer are we grateful because we merely have a job. Instead, we are looking beyond to what we could and should be earning and achieving in the workplace, and if necessary, changing jobs, careers, and companies to get what we deserve. But while the jobs marketplace is good for employees at the moment, internationally, the world of work is changing dramatically. The robots are coming.

A commonly quoted study from the University of Oxford in 2013 predicted that nearly half (47 per cent) of jobs in the US were under threat of automation in the next two decades. There is no need to destroy your Alexa or iPhone in an attempt to prevent this - automation will not mean 47 per cent unemployment. Of course, some jobs will no longer be done by humans but on the plus side, automation will mean shorter working weeks for many of us. Advancements in the industrial revolution meant an average working week fell from 60 hours down to 40 hours. As well as that, automation will see the creation of new jobs that don't even exist yet. But how can you prepare for this new reality and keep your skills relevant when robots can do things faster, cheaper, and often smarter?

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Firstly, hone your soft skills. At least two out of three jobs will likely be non-routine by 2027, which is defined as cognitive work that requires thinking rather than doing. Be what a robot cannot be. Learn how to excel in teamwork; critical analysis; written and oral communication; time management; problem-solving, and public speaking. You can do this through courses (Toastmasters operates across the country and helps people to improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills), through volunteering (check out volunteer.ie), and through your day-to-day attitude at work (approach bosses with solutions instead of problems and help out other members of your team when they are struggling).

Secondly, embrace technology and be an early adopter of change. A McKinsey report found that 62 per cent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace a quarter of their staff before 2023 due to automation and digitisation. To be relevant in the workplace in the automated age, you'll need to be able to switch between using machines and using your own brain constantly to get the most out of both artificial intelligence and human intelligence. Never allow yourself to become close-minded to learning new ways of doing things. Upskill, through professional courses, tinkering about on a computer yourself or learning from colleagues.

Finally, remember that the only constant is change. Technology has made our personal lives easier (I don’t know about the rest of you, but my life is decidedly better with Netflix in it), and it can improve our work lives too.

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