Adapting to the Future of Work: How Technology will Change our Lives

By: Meha Patel, Class of 2019

As the summer approaches, many of us will begin new professional positions. In finding these positions, most people probably first chose an industry that suited their goals, and then assiduously pursued opportunities in that field. However, how many of us considered how these jobs would fit into the broader trends defining the future of work?

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Recent technological advances in AI, machine learning and automation have changed how individuals interact with their work. In today's world, individuals are also increasingly driven by purpose in their work. While complete automation will affect only a small proportion of occupations, partial automation will impact almost every occupation as we know it. Furthermore, the relationship between employers and employees is changing and individuals are switching jobs more frequently. This has led to a rapid growth in the gig economy, which is loosely defined as a labor market comprising of short-term contracts or freelance jobs. A recent study even predicted that the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelance by 2027. While the rise of the gig economy along with increasing technological automation has caused anxiety in the labor markets, today’s employees can certainly prepare for a sustainable, long-term career by adopting three key tenets.

The first, and arguably most important, tenet is that individuals must now continually invest in themselves to combat both demographic and technological trends. Demographically, employees are living and working longer, but the pace of technological change often outpaces the recalibration of skills. Educational systems have unfortunately not kept up with changes in the workplace, therefore many employers report they cannot find employees with the appropriate skills. As such, continual learning is of utmost importance, especially when it comes to acquiring new and relevant domain knowledge.

The second key takeaway is to leverage human-specific cognitive and social skills to complement technological innovation. While automation may remove manual or data-intensive tasks, it is unlikely to replace tasks that require critical or creative thinking. Research conducted by Deloitte identified 25 “human skills” that will be even more critical with continued technological change. Unsurprisingly, this list includes qualities such as communication, empathy, and listening, all of which will be critical to leverage  as employees adapt to increased automation.

Lastly, individuals should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arise through the gig economy. Companies are undoubtedly incentivized to leverage the gig economy since it allows them to adopt a more variable cost structure. On the other hand, individuals continue to look for opportunities that will provide exposure to different types of skills and projects. These effects combined have driven the gig economy beyond low-skilled positions to the point where it now affects many high-skilled workers. As such, employees can and should take advantage of this additional flexibility in their careers. Embracing this flexibility, along with pursuing lifelong learning, and continually complementing digitization will hopefully prepare individuals to succeed in today’s evolving workplace.

Meha Patel is a first-year Booth MBA student pursuing venture capital and interested in all things related to digital health, financial inclusion, and education technology.