5 Strategies to Future-Proof Your Career and Embrace Digital Change

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By Robert Half June 14, 2019 at 1:15pm

It’s easy to buy into the hype that new and disruptive technologies — particularly, artificial intelligence (AI) — are job killers. But technology’s power to change the nature of work, and make some jobs obsolete in the process, is nothing new. Neither is the fact that technology can create new markets and career paths — and provide opportunities for workers to be even more productive and innovative.

Of course, to take advantage of the future job trends that these tech advancements will help to create, professionals need to have relevant skills. But how can you know what skills and abilities you’ll need to be marketable in the future? What steps can you take now to “future-proof” your career and decrease the likelihood of being replaced by a machine?

Robert Half’s new report, Jobs and AI Anxiety, offers some insight. The report delves into how transformative technologies like AI, cloud computing, and virtual reality (VR) are already changing many workplaces and, over time, can help make professionals even more valuable to their employers.

The technology and business experts interviewed for our report shared their thoughts on how workers can potentially future-proof their career — or at least be prepared to pivot in a new direction if needed. Here are some strategies that workers can use to help evolve their skills — and their mindset — so they can be prepared to take advantage of future job trends:

1. Anticipate tech changes in your workplace

One key strategy to future-proof your career is to try to anticipate which technologies your organization is likely to adopt sooner than later.

There are several ways you can do that, from being an astute observer of technology trends in your industry to paying close attention to what leaders at your firm are saying about the company’s goals for digital transformation. For example, there’s a good chance AI solutions are coming to your organization soon: According to a global research study from consulting firm Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, and research firm ESI ThoughtLab, most companies will be applying advanced AI to almost every function in the next two years.

What’s the next step after you identify some possible tech changes coming to your workplace? Dr. Tracey Wilen, a researcher and speaker on the impact of technology on society, work and careers, suggests that professionals learn how to use at least two new technologies that are likely to become relevant to their profession. Adopting this enterprising and entrepreneurial approach helped her to evolve her own career, she says.

“I worked in manufacturing for a long time, and I was very aware of 3D printing and robotics coming onto the scene,” says Wilen, who was interviewed for Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report. “So, I made the point to learn about them — no one told me to do this. I went to industry associations. I took classes, including every technology class my employer could offer. I even sat down with vendors.”

If you’re worried about whether you can learn new skills, give yourself more credit. Another expert interviewed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, futurist and disruptive innovation expert Daniel Burrus, says “Human are infinitely upgradeable. We can learn new things whether we are 18 or 80.”

2. Put your career development on the front burner

The Jobs and AI Anxiety report makes the point that, when businesses adopt new technologies and automate processes and tasks, they free their employees to perform other, more value-adding work. This is a great opportunity for professionals to shine, provided they’re ready to take more responsibility for directing their careers — and are working now to future-proof them.

However, many people don’t take a proactive approach to their career development and planning, and that could easily hurt them in the future, according to Wilen. She says employees often devote less time to professional development once they are actually in the workforce, but their focus should be continuous.

If you feel like you need to jump-start your career development, reach out for help. Talk about your career aspirations with your supervisor, the human resources department, and valued contacts in your professional network, for a start. Participating in professional and industry organizations is another strategy for staying on top of technology and business trends that could impact your job or open doors to appealing new career paths.

3. Elevate your emotional intelligence

If you want to future-proof your career, don’t just focus on growing and refining your technical abilities. The experts we interviewed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report agree that “human skills” such as empathy will top the list of vital skills that workers and business leaders will need in the future. And demonstrating other forms of emotional intelligence, such as compassion and the ability to understand nuance, is one area where human workers have their AI counterparts beat — at least, for now.

Robert Half research featured in the Jobs and AI Anxiety report found that more than half of U.S. managers (51%) expect the introduction of new technologies in the workplace to drive up demand for stellar soft skills. So, no matter what future job trends unfold, you can bet that employers will still value abilities and qualities such as critical thinking, active listening, problem-solving and, of course, adaptability.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, says, “Soft skills have been the new hard skills for several years now in most professions, from finance to IT. If you’re not already making a point to cultivate and master soft skills like communication and collaboration, you’re undermining your ability to adapt to change and remain relevant in the future workplace.”

4. Nurture your inner leader

According to the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, work in the future will be self-driven to a large degree, and also project-driven and team-oriented. Professionals, to succeed in this environment, will need solid leadership skills to direct themselves, their projects and others.

Also, some workers may find they are tapped for leadership roles in their organization much sooner than they may have expected because workforce demographics are changing so rapidly. “We are going to see more younger leaders in business in the future,” says Robert Half chief digital officer Colin Mooney.

5. Be flexible and bold

Embracing flexibility is another key to success for professionals in the future workplace. As more organizations digitize and deploy advanced technologies like machine learning and AI to automate basic tasks, including some types of decision making, companies and workers will also start to look at jobs much differently.

“Work in the future won’t be defined — or confined — by your role or job title. It will be based largely on people’s increased ability to apply their own unique set of skills, knowledge and talents to their work,” Mooney says. (Essentially, Mooney’s take is that your work in the future will be centered on what even advanced software alone can’t achieve.)

So, one clear message from the Jobs and AI Anxiety report and the experts interviewed for it is that you will need to focus on building a solid mix of hard and soft skills if you want to future-proof your career. You’re probably doing that, as these skills are already in demand. Moving forward, you may want to focus on using your critical-thinking abilities to analyze how technology may change your workplace in the near term and spark future job trends. That includes examining how you perform your current work, and whether you could do those processes or tasks differently — and better — by applying new technology.

Robert Atkinson, president, Information Technology and Information Foundation, who was also interviewed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, says that inviting technological change, and being willing to take risks, can help workers keep pace with or even stay ahead of digital change. “Professionals need to visualize the next lily pad and how they can jump to it,” he says. “They need to ask: ‘What qualifications and capabilities do I need?’ and ‘How and where do I get those skills?’” He notes that a great starting place would be enrolling in some Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free online courses available to anyone.

Will disrupting your own job with technology help to future-proof your career? Quite possibly. You’ll be stepping up to learn valuable skills and experience that can help you anticipate and benefit from future job trends. At the very least, it could help you to avoid being disrupted by digital change unexpectedly.

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