What just happened to Uber drivers could just as easily happen to you… unless you take steps to guard against it.
Last week, Uber announced that it is experimenting with driverless cars in Pittsburgh this month. To quote Uber Man, “This is big. It’s scary stuff… bad news if you’re an Uber driver”. And for better or worse, what happens in Pittsburgh won’t stay in Pittsburgh.
Undoubtedly, this kind of disruption to jobs and career opportunities will happen to more of us going forward.
According to a study by the Oxford Martin School, 47% of US jobs could be susceptible to computerization over the next two decades. And by 2025, robots could replace between 40mm to 75mm jobs worldwide according to McKinsey Global Institute.
And with the pace of technological change speeding up, the disruption to the world of work will also get faster.
Future-proofing your career
Since we know the world won’t stand still, what matters is to start thinking ahead about how to “future-proof” your career.
It’s the only way to prevent yourself from becoming a casualty of what the rest of the world experiences as “progress”.
A good starting point is to recognize that there’s risk out there in career land. Technological change, regulatory change, and the speed of change are all on the rise. And that’s just for starters.
In just the last decade or two, we’ve seen whole business sectors downsize or disappear such as record stores and travel agencies, and others growing or springing up as in the case of big data analytics and elder care.
Similarly, many had thought that driverless cars would be a good 20 years away, but here we are with Uber experimenting with a precursor version this month.
So start looking ahead and thinking about it while you have the luxury of time and a paycheck.
It’s your responsibility
You can’t count on anyone else to do this for you. Other people may have vested interests in keeping you doing what you’re doing, whether that’s well-meaning friends and family who want you to have that secure job and not take risks, or your employer who needs you to perform your role and not create problems.
And remember that sometimes, the “do nothing” strategy is the most risky. So it’s up to you to look at your job and figure out where you have risk, ways to de-risk your career, and how you can put yourself in control.
Rather than allowing you to unwittingly become a dinosaur when you’ve got more to give, you can develop ways to win no matter what the future of work looks like.
Seven ways to future-proof your career
1. Assess where your role stands
When you start looking ahead, one important thing to look at is your function or your role. Is it something that could be done differently in a more technologically advanced future world?
To get at that, you could think about the answer to this question: If you were hired to put you and your team out of a job, how would you do that? How would the tasks get done? What would be a better way to do it?
Then, find out whether someone is already doing this. That will give you a better sense of the potential pace of disruption.
For example, in the legal profession, the routine parts of the job (like document culling and document review) are already being outsourced. And one could imagine that in the not-too-distant future, these tasks probably will be done by artificial intelligence.
So it’s a question of figuring out whether you are mired in doing the routine parts versus the creative, high value added portions, and developing your expertise in the latter as fast as you can.
2. Assess where your organization stands
This can be thought of at two levels: the sector level and the company level.
Are you in a sector that is likely to be disrupted next? Who and what could eat your lunch and how long before it happens? What alternatives are out there for satisfying the same need that your sector is satisfying?
And what would be an entirely different way of looking at the sector? For example, that’s the difference between looking at healthcare as taking care of sick people versus keeping people well for as long as possible.
Then, within the sector, are you working at an organization that is likely to be one of the winners in the changed future? Just think about Eastman Kodak, which went from being top dog to bankruptcy, while rival Fuji Photo was able to diversify out of camera film successfully.
3. Don’t get pigeonholed
Look at how specialized your skills are and ask yourself whether that makes you more valuable, or more at risk of upcoming shifts in the environment.
Sometimes, being in a specialized niche is the winning strategy, which clearly depends on what that niche is. Other times it can limit your options if you’ve only ever done one thing. Figure out which is true for you.
Either way, make sure you give yourself enough breadth of capability to avoid getting pigeonholed such that people can only imagine you in one role.
4. Focus on tomorrow’s skills
Identify and develop skills that will become key or at least increasingly relevant. It’s the equivalent of ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky’s explanation of his success, “I skate to where the puck is going.”
If you focus on training up only for the skills needed today, you may be outdated before you’ve become an expert.
According to Lynda Gratton, London Business School professor and author of The Shift, you must “think hard about the skill areas that are likely to be important in the future – for example sustainability, health and wellness, and design and social media are all likely to be areas where work will be created over the next decade. Also remember that jobs that involve working closely with people (chef, hairdresser, coach, physiotherapist) are unlikely to move to another country.” (Source)
5. Develop timeless assets
Although you’ll need and want to have specific skills, it’s also important to make sure you step back and develop them into their more universal and transferrable versions. That way, you have flexibility to move to other areas and morph into other applications of those skills.
For example, the specific skill of selling bonds could become a more timeless asset if you became known as someone who can persuade and influence clients at the highest levels.
Or you may be skilled at making a particular kind of product – say, buggy whips. But when buggy whips become obsolete, you’re out of a job unless you’ve also developed the ability to create efficient production processes, of which the buggy whip is one example.
What that entails is thinking more strategically about your specific skill, and then zooming out and looking at it as a more broadly applicable model or framework or turning it into a strategic capability that you can transfer to other situations.
That’s what I mean by “timeless asset” – a capability that won’t go out of fashion and that is therefore timeless as an asset you can put to work elsewhere.
6. Broaden your connections
Another way to future-proof your career is by building connections and relationships with people who can put you in touch with new ways of thinking and doing things.
Resist the urge to spend time with just those people who keep you happily in your comfort zone. Get used to doing that before the future changes things for you and forces you to get out there when you’re not prepared.
7. Stay away from the same old same old
If you are doing the same thing in the same way in the same field for a long enough time, you put yourself at greater risk of getting derailed by changes in the future.
To future-proof your career requires that you take a dynamic approach rather than a static one, adopt a growth mindset rather than the status quo, and most importantly, keep evolving and transforming yourself rather than rely on what’s worked in the past.
What will you do?
It’s one of life’s ironies (and perhaps a technological inevitability) that Uber drivers, who put a big dent in the livelihood or taxi drivers, are now facing the same risk of obsolescence from driverless cars.
And now, it’s over to you. How will you future-proof your career? Leave a comment and let me know.