With everything from how we collaborate to the technology we use undergoing enormous transformation, many believe that the future of work will look very different in 10 years.
By some estimates, roughly half of U.S. jobs will be potentially affected by automation in the near future. So what are the skills we need to build now to remain employable over the next decade? While specific abilities and knowledge will certainly vary from industry to industry, there are some overarching trends that will affect most of us says workplace futurist Jeanne Meister, a partner at Future Workplace, a New York workplace consultancy. Here are five skills to start building now to maintain your marketability over the next decade.
"The big challenge for a lot of people today is that they typically learn something and they assume that what they learn is going to carry with them for the rest of their lives," says Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization, and cofounder of The Future of Work Community, an online membership organization exploring how the workplace will change. With the workplace changing so quickly, it’s essential to develop systems to not only monitor those changes, but to distill the information and training you’ll need to keep up with them.
That means staying abreast of industry developments, taking classes, attending trade events, and following thought leaders who are talking about your sector. It also means being observant about the day-to-day tasks and functions that matter and how they’re changing, separating anomalies from trends.
Two trends are converging that will force us to get comfortable collaborating in new ways. First, companies are using more freelancers and soloist services—the so-called "gig economy"—so it’s important to be able to work effectively with disparate teams. In addition, employees can spend more than quarter of their workdays reading, writing and responding to email. Any process that time-consuming is ripe for disruption, Meister says.
And it’s happening. Platforms like Yammer and Slack cut down on the flow of messages in your inbox and keep project versions, information, and updates in one central, searchable location, she says. She says companies will increase their use videoconferencing, much to the chagrin of many who work from home and take casual workdays to the next level. "This is a way for people to get comfortable with each other faster," she says.
Sure, you have a LinkedIn profile and you’re careful what you put out there on Twitter. But marketable employees are going to need to take a more holistic view of what their online brand is, says Bala Iyer, information technology professor at Babson College. In addition to the requisite social media parameters, knowledge workers and others whose employment recruitment has an online component need to show their expertise through participation on sites like Quora or industry-related sites where they can share their thinking on key issues. "Those things have become more relevant in terms of when people try to assess how good you are at something," he says.
Brand-building and other entrepreneurial skills will also be important as more workers shift to the gig economy and freelance work. To compete on a regular basis for the next job, you have to have a body of work and online capital to back up your pitch, he says.
Whether it’s a wearable device that can help you do your job from the road, learning how to interact with machines equipped with artificial intelligence, or the onset of automation in your office or other workplace, remaining employable will require embracing rather than eschewing tech changes. If robots are coming to an assembly line, the next step is to learn what the robots can’t do and gain new skills there, Morgan says. That may mean learning programming or becoming familiar with the human support that automated systems need.
"You need to be aware of what’s going on the in the world. Sometimes, we close ourselves off," he says. Pay attention to what’s happening in the most advanced workplaces in your field and prepare. That way, you’ll be ahead of the game when the changes come to you.
It sounds trite, but the one thing machines will have a tough time doing is building relationships, Morgan says. Developing emotional intelligence—empathy, embracing vulnerability, building strong connections your co-workers and your network—will go a long way to keeping you highly marketable, he says.
"We are very good, in our schools, at teaching people the strategic aspects of how work should get done, how to build strategies, how to compete, how to do all that sort of stuff. We don't do a good enough job teaching people the human, the relationship side of business," he says.
Looking for the next changes and remaining ahead of the curve in learning about them will be essential to remaining among the most marketable employees. In addition, following trends and thought leadership in your own sector and ensuring that your skills are staying up to date will also play a role. Finally, paying attention to the human side of work—the area that machines will be most challenged in replicating, can be the ultimate way to keep your job opportunities strong.