How to stop the machines from killing your job

What skills are key to facing the next technological revolution?
Invest in skills that complement tech but don’t compete with it.
Rapid improvements in digital technology are changing the nature of human work. Computers can now recognise human speech and use it to carry out simple instructions. They work alongside humans in factories, warehouses and fields. And they can parse through large databases in search of patterns they can turn into useful information. This has sparked fears that such innovation will push advanced economies into an age of joblessness, but we shouldn’t be too quick to buy into apocalyptic predictions. For those trying to remain competitive in an age of rapid change, here are some takeaways from the research.

A CHANGING SKILL LANDSCAPE

A recent study by the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi found several changes in skill requirements in the US labour market from 2006 to 2014. As machines’ capabilities have increased in areas such as visual and voice perception — think of Google’s self-driving car and Apple’s Siri — positions requiring similar manual or perceptive skills have become less valuable.
On the other hand, the importance of interpersonal skills has increased over time. “Sales, customer service, and supervision remain the domain of human workers,” the researchers say. Skills that complement technology have also become more important, as firms making use of technology, from factories to financial firms, have become more efficient.

FOSTER CREATIVITY AND INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

To prepare for this changing landscape, MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson says the first thing to do is focus on the kinds of skills that computers won’t replace in the near future. “We have to prepare our skills for where the technology is going in the next 10 or 20 years, and that means moving away from rote knowledge learning and conformism and towards encouraging creativity and interpersonal skills,” he told Wired. In financial services, for example, while artificial intelligence is making inroads in fields like accountancy, negotiation or strategy-based roles could well become more important.

ENCOURAGE FLEXIBILITY

The tasks that machines can do are constantly changing, so people in all lines of work should strive to be flexible about developing new skills and even changing occupations. “The skills that are valuable today may be less valuable tomorrow, as technology ad­vances,” Brynjolfsson says.
It’s also important that companies learn to anticipate and adapt to rapid change. As he and his colleagues James Manyika and Andrew McAfee say in Project Syndicate, “rather than assume the value is theirs for the taking, entrepreneurs need to come up with innovative business models to monetise technology’s potential”.

Collaborative task management

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