How To Future-Proof Yourself in an Age of Automation

Future-proofing yourself in the automation age

Like it or not, we are living in a time that requires you to future-proof yourself for the age of automation. Robots and artificial intelligence are both impacting the Australian workforce like never before. From drones to driverless cars, we’re beginning to see how much of an impact this will have on our jobs and everyday lives.

It would, however, be a mistake to think that this is an entirely new phenomenon. More than 200 years ago, the Jacquard loom revolutionised the textile industry and replaced thousands of jobs. It was only as recently as 1991 that the last manually operated telephone exchange in Australia closed. Technology has always impacted the workforce, but that’s never been more true than now. In fact, a report commissioned by the Australian Government shows that close to a quarter (22%) of Australian jobs are highly susceptible to automation.[1]

This revolution of automation brings with it efficiencies and improvements in output, but many jobs (and entire professions) are at risk as a result. The question is, how we can ensure our place in the economy of the future?

What does industrial automation mean?

The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s changed the world. The advent of technology such as steam-driven engines multiplied efficiencies, but millions of workers were made redundant as a result. Industrial automation is, in a way, the second big step in this process. It is the use of control systems (such as computers or robots) to replace humans in the workplace. In many cases, automation relieves us of mundane and menial tasks by ‘outsourcing’ them to machines.

Today, to future-proof yourself, you need to find jobs that are hard to replace and get qualifications in those areas. For example, a computer may be able to replicate the job of a telemarketer far more easily than it could replace a podiatrist. Algorithms might ensure an accurate weekly payroll, but they won’t replace a school principal. What becomes evident is that jobs requiring ‘soft skills’ are the least likely to fall victim to the automation age. These skills, such as adaptability, collaboration and creativity, can be as valuable as experience. Online education provides the perfect environment in which these types of employment ‘assets’ can be learned and honed.

Automation in the workplace

We already deal with artificial intelligence (AI) every day of our lives. The face recognition feature on your smartphone is the most obvious example, but there are many others. Technology’s natural development lends itself to replicating the jobs of humans in lots of workplaces, particularly those jobs which require few problem-solving or organisational skills. The World Economic Forum’s recent Sustainable Development Impact Summit predicts that 33% of all jobs are at risk of automation within the next decade,[2] and those with low levels of education are most at risk.

Like never before, adaptability will be the key to building a career firewall that offers protection from automation. Ask yourself what interpersonal skills and qualifications you’ll require to successfully find a long-term place in the workforce of the future. Next, find professional courses to help you achieve those capabilities. Investing in yourself, based on a commitment to career growth, will pay dividends in opening up a broad range of opportunities.

Skills you need to future-proof yourself

Automation is accelerating rapidly. In the four decades up to 1987, 17% of jobs in industries that adopted automation were lost, but 19% more jobs were actually created.[3] Yet in the following 30 years, the percentage of job losses remained constant while creating only 10% more opportunities.
Understanding the types of automation that are seeing success will help you plan what direction you should take for the future. For example:

  • The construction industry already uses drones to survey project sites, and self-driving forklifts to transport materials,
  • Human resources use specialised software to oversee functions such as candidate filtering and employee databases, from small businesses to multinationals,
  • In retail, self-serve checkouts and automated inventory tracking systems have become even more significant in the era of COVID-19.

To secure career paths in these and other sectors, you need to bring the ‘human’ factor, to provide the attributes that AI or robots can’t replicate. That means getting qualified and achieving education ‘benchmarks’ that are going to be attractive to employers of the future.

How to get qualified for the jobs of the future

We’ve already established that employees with low levels of education are most at risk in a workforce that is increasingly subject to the influence of automation. Even those who are strongly qualified in certain fields will need to embrace AI to some degree to do their jobs.

Every future employee will need to learn how new technology can support their role, not replace it. More than 7 million Australians will either lose their jobs entirely or have some robotic or AI influence on them, in the next 15 years.[4] The jobs most at risk of elimination include some aspects of the transport, mining, and construction industries.

Conversely, automation will lift the productivity of the jobs that remain by an estimated 15%. The sectors that will most benefit in terms of extra employment are those that require a uniquely human element, such as education, health care, and project management. The key to securing futures in sectors unlikely to be as seismically altered by automation is to specialise. A great way of achieving this is to undertake ‘micro-credentialing’, or industry-specific education paths. Online learning is a good example. There are online diploma courses that suit many industries and skillsets, allowing you to ‘pick and choose’ exactly what qualifications you’ll require.

Understanding how you can offer extra ‘value’ in an automation landscape is the most critical path to plot and navigate to future-proof yourself.

[1] Australian Government Industry Report, 2018

[2] We Forum, 2020

[3] The Mandarin, 2020

[4] AFR, 2020