Will robots replace human jobs (and how do you deal with that)?

illustrated human brainThe Future of Work is a particularly hot topic at the moment. It seems as if everyone, from governments to big brands, is producing a report on how automation, digitisation and other technological advances will affect our future workplaces, talent and educational approaches.

One panel at this summer’s London Technology Week particularly caught our eye: The Future of Work: How will digital thinking and skills impact, shape and reinvent it? Essentially it asked:

  • Are robots and AI set to take your job, and what does this mean for the future of human work?
  • Is your business, company or organisation prepared for the huge evolution set to revolutionise the world of work?

We tuned in to find out some of the key messages of relevance to our hiring clients, who want to win the talent battle and get ahead on the workplace changes to come, and what this means for our network of job candidates who want to futureproof their careers and keep up with the rapid pace of change. Here are our session notes.

The panel discussion was moderated by Nate Lanxon, Head of European Technology News at Bloomberg, and featured Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, Founder at 5Rights, IntoFilm; Olivia Streatfeild, Partner at Freston Foundry; Gi Fernando, Founder at Freeformers; and Benika Brown, Founder at Shaping Tomorrow’s Women.

Be a lifelong learner

bookshelfStored knowledge is becoming less important than being taught how to learn. The new world is not one of recall but of knowledge streaming, in which you are a click away from, for example, a university professor giving a tutorial online or an app teaching new language skills. (More on this in our post How I teach myself new digital content skills using cake!)

Learning how to spot these opportunities, developing a mindset of lifelong learning, embracing creative and critical thinking, making connections, and entering and adapting to new environments – these are the things that will potentially overtake the traditional education route to a job. The panel agreed that degrees, even courses, were starting to sound old-fashioned, as gained knowledge could easily date – “three years at university is a long time in the fast-changing world of technology”.

How you learn, not what you learn, is the key thing.

How to beat a robot

man wearing a robot arm
Artificial intelligence (AI), robots and automation are likely to become the biggest threat to many jobs in the near future. However, while computers may be faster, they are not creative, empathetic, ethical or good at interpersonal communication. And herein lies the opportunity.

Baroness Beeban Kidron quoted a 2013 study from Oxford University called The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation? (PDF) which looked at the jobs that are most and least at risk from computerisation. Scroll down to the appendix to see where your job sits in the rankings (spoiler: reporters, editors, graphic designers, desktop publishers, information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects can rest pretty easy – for now at least).

Kidron said: “Any repeated action is at threat from automation and robots. All the things that are really human, and about society and community and expression [are safer], for example, some of the most protected jobs are dentistry, anthropology, archaeology, make-up artists and teachers.”

“Anything which processes large sets of data and applies rules to them to produce a logical output is a job … which is probably more robot than human,” added Gi Fernando, around the topic of robot lawyers. “So you can either have a human do a bad robot job or a robot do a good robot job and get the human to maybe deal with the empathy, moral values and other issues. It is happening now. I have a PA who is an AI. It’s actually here right now.”

Adaptability will be key to survival

chameleonThe biggest danger facing the next generation of adult-aged workers, according to Olivia Streatfeild, is the lack of adaptibility.

“The pace of change is so rapid. Even now big companies are restructuring every year and it’s hard. A lot of people can’t deal with that pace of change. Being able to be adaptable to your environment is very important.”

Benika Brown also advocated travel as important: “You learn a lot when you step outside of your environment.”

Non-linear flexible and creative careers, reinventing yourself as you go along and continual upskilling are the future.

Rethink how you present yourself

magnifying glass over a man's faceFinally, CVs were also discussed, mostly for their inadequacy: “50k to represent a human being – you have more data on cat videos!”

With recruiters already checking for CV lies and surveying candidates’ social media profiles, the panel were asked how can talent better represent itself to a business in a world that is always changing?

Lots of things are coming. Competing talent can likely expect hirers and recruiters to make greater use of open data and use more psychometric testing and new methodologies that are designed to reveal character traits, resilience and adaptability. They’ll also be seeking other available digital footprints from social media to… who knows yet? (More on that in Is your work a bitch? Beware moaning about it here!)

Such transparency may help employers decide on whom to hire, leaving (adaptable) workers to wisely use such data to embrace their strengths and work on their weaknesses.

Conversely, employers and recruiters will have to learn new ways of interviewing in order to really test the digital knowledge and capabilities of their candidates. How many bring internet access into their interviews, for example?

Images: (CC) health blogexo 111, mshehanquinanya

Further information

You can hear the full panel discussion here on Soundcloud.

For ongoing discussion, follow the #futureofwork topic on Twitter.

This panel took place at the third London Tech Week #ldntechweek in June, which featured 400 events held across London. Here are a few more links from the event:

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