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What does the “future of work” mean?

The “future of work” is often considered an issue of automation. Technology is improving and making our lives more accessible and convenient; yet this technology is able to do tasks that were formerly exclusive to humans. We’re streamlining our ability to perform repetitive, manual tasks with ease. The job market as we know it is changing as a result. 

We’re replacing workers in jobs we considered commonplace, but we’re also seeing how technology can augment our productivity and increase opportunities for human workers. Whether we see it as a positive or negative, the future of work is filled with changes in who’s working, how we’re working and where we’re working.

Trends in the future of jobs

  • Routine jobs are becoming automated. A 2013 study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne found that 47% of American jobs are at high risk of automation. These jobs were all routine, encompassing careers like taxi driving or telemarketing. With artificial intelligence improving, those in these job areas are at high risk with machine replacement.
  • Future jobs will involve more independent work. While technology has the ability to take jobs, it also has the ability to supply for work. In a study done by the Federal Reserve System, nearly a third of Americans responded that they did some sort of independent work. While some did not perform independent work as a primary source of income, technology offers ways for individuals to engage to supplement their income, too. There’s online stores like Etsy that provide a platform for creatives and retail workers; Airbnb for the property-inclined or those just hoping to rent out their home (if even just a bed in it) and ride-sharing services like Uber for drivers looking to earn a little more.
  • Part-time, remote and freelance options will become more available. With more independent work available, the days of committing to a single career are withering away. The gig economy — where people get paid per “gig” rather than a salary or hourly wage — is alive and thriving. This gives individuals the chance to freelance and work part-time instead of sticking with a singular job. With technology easily available, this work is also completed efficiently and effectively remotely. There are a million and one ways to video chat into a work call or quickly check in with a coworker even if you aren’t in the same building. This provides more flexibility in living space — as long as there’s wifi — and work schedules.

7 ways to prepare for the future of work

1. Think about what makes you unique.

Everyone brings something special to the table, no matter what field they’re in. Even when the job market changes, what makes your professional abilities unique won’t change. When considering what makes you stand out in your current position, consider your soft skills. Are you a particularly great listener? Do you communicate well? If you’re confident in what makes you unique, you can bring that skill anywhere you might work, regardless of what happens in your current career.

2. Focus on your emotional intelligence.

The ultimate gap in machine ability is emotional intelligence. Even though artificial intelligence is improving, nothing can replace highly emotionally intelligent people. Those with high emotional intelligence have great empathy, listening skills, and awareness of their own and other’s emotions. While we might think of emotions as personal, emotional intelligence is crucial to our professional lives in our task performance, interactions with coworkers and the way we communicate with our clients.

3. Develop your critical thinking skills.

On seemingly the opposite side of the professional field, critical thinking skills focus on the gathering and processing of information. While machines might be helpful in either of these two facets, they often lack the ability to choose the most effective or efficient solution. Being a critical thinker means you can understand the circumstances of each problem, evaluate the information, offer a variety of solutions and finally discern which will be the best move for the company. If you’re strong critical thinker, this innovation and inventiveness, along with strong judgment skills, will be integral to a work environment.

4. Be open to adaptation.

The future of work is frightening because what we’re used to is changing. If you’re an adaptable worker, you can stay on top of the trends and welcome change rather than run from it — or worse, be tackled by it. Even if you don’t decide to participate in the gig economy or work remotely, learn the skills and strengths needed to make those changes if you need to. Staying on top of and ahead of the curve gives you an advantage when your industry changes and prepares you for when the future of work finally “arrives.”

5. Strengthen your digital and media literacy.

As technology becomes so integral to our everyday lives, it’s nearly impossible to avoid using a digital or media platform. Yet these platforms can be and are extremely useful, both professionally and personally — so why hide when you can welcome the change with open arms? The ability to use the platforms to your advantage will only benefit you in the long run. Developing your technical skills now solidifies a foundation to give you media and digital literacy for years to come.

6. Learn to communicate virtually.

With the trends shifting toward remote work, learning how to communicate virtually is more important than ever. We won’t always be able to make it into the office for face time, especially if there is no office to go to! Knowing how to successfully navigate remote communication is an integral skill, whether you decide to work remotely now or will in the future. Learn how to interact with coworkers virtually can help build your remote teamwork skills and increase productivity even in front of a screen.

7. Encourage creativity.

Creativity is key — especially when you’re competing against technology. Like emotional intelligence, creativity is hard to come across when you’re using artificial intelligence. Creativity comes in all forms, so don’t worry if you’re not a painter or a dancer. There’s creativity in problem solving, organizing and even managing. Understanding and compiling your creative skills will make you indispensable and an integral part of any team.

The future may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re informed and prepared. Understanding the trends in the workforce can propel you to take action and lock down your skills and take charge of your professional future — no matter what comes your way.

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Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.

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