The Challenge: Jobs of the Past Are Disappearing

It’s hard to find any job or profession that has not been affected by the technological developments of our era. Some jobs are disappearing completely, while many others are being performed more efficiently using software, robots, or other technology-enabled methods.

Clearly, technological, economic, and demographic trends are upsetting our traditional ways of looking at work and careers, while at the same time providing whole new worlds of opportunity.

The Question: How Can You Prepare For the Jobs of the Future?

New jobs and entire new professions are emerging that involve new technologies—jobs in development, programming, applications, and management. While sci-fi movies may foretell a different scenario, for now someone will have to “tell the computer” what to do.

As new technological applications continue to alter processes, policy, and profitability in every field, even nontechnical careers are requiring basic technological competence and more frequent upgrading and updating of skills.

As time and technology march on, there will be no turning back, only moving forward to learn new skills and take on different types of roles. For the well-prepared and ambitious, current trends combine to provide more information, more opportunities, and more choices. Thinking ahead, you may be wondering:

  • What “good jobs” will be available in the future?
  • What skills will be needed and valued?
  • Where should I invest my learning time and energy?

Consider This: What’s a Human to Do?

“The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”—Warren Bennis

The most exciting breakthrough of the 21st century will occur not because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”—John Naisbitt

Careers and technology

Photo by Eric Diesel via Wikimedia Commons

Try This: Do What a Computer Can’t Do

To thrive as the work world changes, be alert to trends that will create opportunities, make friends with technology, and increase your value by cultivating uniquely human skills.

Congratulations. You Got a Promotion

The nature of human work is changing. On a higher level, this is good news. Most Americans are no longer “tilling the soil.” In 1900, 40% of U.S. laborers were agricultural workers; by 2000, fewer than 1% were.1 While there are still plenty of workers with aching body parts at the end of the day, our work generally is a lot less physical than in previous eras.

In this century, the shift continues. Much work that can be accomplished through routine movements and processes no longer requires human execution. Robots and machines can perform many manufacturing functions. Computers can crunch numbers. Software such as “Turbotax” can address standard scenarios. “Google” and “Siri” can access facts and perform routine administrative tasks.

Routine Jobs are at Risk.

In essence, “the computer”, i.e. a technology-enabled system, does the “easy” stuff—the standard, routine functions.

Beyond Routine and Information-Gathering

You are left with the “tough stuff”—making judgments, creating systems, and handling exceptions. In a world overflowing with information, you are left to “cull”—that is, to decide what’s important, and to “curate”, to put it together in meaningful forms. Such tasks require critical and constructive thinking.

Once More, With Feeling

You are also left with “the good stuff,” the elements of work that touch others in uniquely human ways. Interpersonal skills—always a key factor in career advancement and success—have become more essential than ever. We are overloaded with data, but data doesn’t move people. Those who can inspire and persuade through stories, humor, images, and other communication that cuts through the informational hubbub will garner distinct influence.

Connecting Dots and People

We are now operating in a larger, more complex world. With so many developments in science, technology, and other specialized fields, it has become difficult for any one person to know everything needed to solve complex problems. Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill.

The need to connect domains and ideas also requires social capital to connect and influence people, increasing the importance of being able to find, develop, and mobilize talent.

Now For Something Completely Different 

Continued success will also depend on our ability to adapt and to create new forms of value. Be ready for this by updating your learning skills. Upgrade your proficiency in navigating change. Develop your capacity for creativity and innovation.

Lastly, because standing still is not likely to be a successful strategy for most workers, continue to increase your personal productivity and be ready to actively manage your career.

Skills For a New Era: The New “7 Cs”

Putting the pieces together, then, along with basic technological competence, here are seven human skills needed to thrive in this era:

  • Changing: Adapting effectively to new situations
  • Creating: Creating new forms of value
  • Collaborating: Connecting domains, ideas, and people effectively
  • Culling and Critical Thinking: Pinpointing significant information and making good decisions
  • Communicating: Using ideas and information to create meaning and inspire action
  • Coaching: Developing and engaging talent
  • Career Skills: Self-awareness, learning, personal productivity, and career management

Apply & Evaluate: What Do You Notice?

Take stock of your career skill sets. Consider:

  • What types of work are we likely to insist be done by people, even if it becomes possible for them to be done by “computers”?
  • Which of your skills are likely to continue to be valuable in the future? What new skills can you develop to thrive in this era?
  • How can you learn and develop higher-level, uniquely human skills?

Take Action: Now What?

Get started with a personal learning plan to prepare for the jobs of the future.

Find More Articles Like This in Leaders Lab: 66 Ways to Develop Your Leadership Skill, Strategy, and Style

©New Century Leadership LLC 2015