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Will Automation Put You Out of a Job?

Ralph P

Gone are the days when you could work at the same company for 30 years. It's not budget cuts or an economic downturn responsible for this shift, but a phenomenon in the workplace that transcends both occupation and salary.

According to a 2016 report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee tenure is down a record low: 4.2 years. This means employees are staying at their current post for less time than ever before. And while any number of reasons could explain this trend, one is certain to play a bigger role in the future—automation.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers states that nearly 40 percent of all U.S. jobs are at risk of being lost to automation within the next 15 years. And that's not just in the manufacturing sector; it's the entire economy. Positions once thought as “safe bets," such as administration, finance, and support services are no longer safe from automation. For other developed nations, such as Japan, Germany, and the U.K., the outlook isn't promising, either.

automation and jobs of the future
Created by Ryan Mason

Rising tide

No job or industry can avoid the rising tide of automation—not even mine as a writer.

The Associated Press, for example, is already using writing automation tools that automatically produce corporate earnings reports. Fox Networks' Big Ten Network uses the same tool to generate sports recaps automatically.

As published in a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, only 5 percent of occupations are prime for full automation—however, almost every occupation has the potential for some form of automation.

Automation is coming. How fast, though, is disputed. Some say quickly. Mauricio Armellini and Tim Pike of The Bank of England reference "The Fourth Industrial Revolution" a disruption to markets caused by technologies like artificial intelligence:

“There is growing concern in the global tech community that developed economies are poorly prepared for the next industrial revolution [...] Economists looking at previous industrial revolutions observe that none of these risks have transpired. However, this possibly underestimates the very different nature of the technological advances currently in progress [...] It would be a mistake, therefore, to dismiss the risks associated with these new technologies too lightly."

Others say it's not:

“This is going to take decades," said James Manyika, a director of the McKinsey Global Institute. “How automation affects employment will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible, which is what technologists tend to focus on."

So what can we do to better our chances for long-term and prosperous employment? We need to become a T-person.

working with automation tools of future

Become a T

A T-shaped person has one skill that he or she specializes in, yet is versed and adequate in others.

This person may be a front-end web developer who dabbles in graphic design. Think of it like majoring in one subject in college, and minoring in another—or like the advice I was given: major in what'll make you money, minor in what you're passionate about.

Better yet, here's how Tim Brown the pioneer of the term puts it:

“T-shaped people have two kinds of characteristics, hence the use of the letter “T" to describe them. The vertical stroke of the “T" is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. [...] The horizontal stroke of the “T" is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines."

T-shaped skills aren't new. This approach goes by several different—often oxymoronic—names including, generalizing specialist, technical craftsperson, and master generalist. Or you might be more familiar with the colloquial term—Renaissance Man.

Being T-shaped is how you can diversify your skills portfolio and avoid redundancy. But what kind of skill should you specialize in? My vote is for coding.

Stay ahead of the curve

Embrace the upcoming changes by learning to code and then you can implement the next automation solution.

This current wave of automation is aiming for the low-hanging fruit—the easier stuff to automate—which is usually the monotonous, time-consuming chores of any given job. Progressive employers realizing this have quickly turned to re-training and re-investing in their labor to stem organizational exodus.

Employees faced with downsizing from automation have the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary for the future—and doing so has never been easier.

There’s a thriving industry that's cropped up to teach coding to anybody. From the online-based Codecademy, Udemy, Treehouse, Coursera—even the tried-and-true Lynda.com, to the brick-and-mortar, fully immersive bootcamp-style coding schools, there's a way for anyone to learn to code.

Coding is no longer the domain of a four-year institution. You can learn how to do it from your couch.

Learning to code and other T-shaped skills may make the difference between implementing an automation solution and being made redundant by an automation solution.

 

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