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How to prepare for the jobs of the future

Keith Suter - Monday, November 03, 2014

 

The entire nature of work is changing and the majority of jobs as we know them are set to disappear over the coming years.

In fact, almost half of the jobs in the US could be automated over the next decade, according to research from the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology - The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?.

“According to our estimate, 47 per cent of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two,” the paper found.

Careers are dead

Fortunately for financial services the researchers – Carl Benedikt Frey of the Oxford Martin School and Michael A. Osborne of the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford – found that most management, business and financial occupations which are “intensive in generalist tasks requiring social intelligence” are not at a high risk of being automated.

"If I were running schools I would turn them into little centres of entrepreneurs.” Dr Keith Suter, Economic Futurist

But there are some jobs, like a financial advisor, that may be automated in financial services. The authors note that FutureAdvisor is a service in the United States that is using artificial intelligence to offer affordable personalised financial advice.

Frey and Osborne’s conclusion is that workers will need to acquire and develop creative and social skills if they want to succeed in a future world.

Economic futurist and foreign affairs expert Dr Keith Suter also lectures at Macquarie and Boston University and advises his young students to not look for a specific “job” but to aim for a broad area of “work”.

“Careers” are dead (don’t listen to your uncle who had 35 years in the bank or public service); “jobs” are on the way out (they were invented in the Industrial Revolution): but opportunities for “work” are unlimited,” he tells students.

He believes that schools are producing children for an era that no longer exists. And if he had anything to do with education he would construct a system that encouraged and focussed on developing entrepreneurial skills.

“If I were running schools I would turn them into little centres of entrepreneurs,” he says.

UK-based management and business consultant Charles Handy has been writing about change and the changing nature of work for decades and has published 19 books.

In his The Elephant and the Flea he talks about how he became a ‘flea’ or an individual consultant after he left the ‘elephant’ of an established corporation.

“All of these big elephants are gone and all we’ve got left is fleas,” Suter explains.

An action plan

But how can one prepare for a future where there is a one in two chance that your job may disappear? One tool that can be useful is scenario mapping or planning. It’s basically the exercise of predicting possible future outcomes or answers to a particular question. In this case instead of “where should I work?” it could be “what work can I do?” or “how should I work?”.

There are some jobs, like a financial advisor, that may be automated in financial services.

An ideal number of scenarios to think about could be two or four – an odd number like three often causes someone to default to the middle choice.

The next step is to consider all possible drivers of change when working out potential outcomes. Suter uses the acronym STEEP – social, technological, economic, environmental and political – to cover all bases.

“Part of the scenario planning is it helps us to uncover different outcomes,” Suter says.

Once those different outcomes are identified, contingency plans for each of them can be created and prepared for.

Then one needs to look for the signs that a particular scenario may be starting to eventuate.

Suter used scenario mapping in his most recent thesis on The future of the Uniting Church in Australia and suggests that it could also be quite useful for working out whether or not a particular couple should get married.

The future of your work might remain unpredictable but at least by creating more options, you’ve taken the blinkers off and broadened your horizons.

Author: Penny Pryor