Clarifying Your Career Path: Technology is Eating Your Job
This may be the one of the most important career posts I've ever written. I urge you to read it, even if you don't think it applies to you.
This morning I was tagged in a G+ conversation that linked to this article on the impact of technology in the workplace. It got me thinking, once again, about how technology is transforming the workplace.
One of the things I've been harping on for awhile now is that as individual workers, we need to be paying better attention to technological changes that are coming our way. This is a HUGE part of the clarifying pattern we need to be developing for career resilience.
Here's the thing. Clarifying is about looking at how your strengths and skills and passions intersect with what's happening in the job market. As technology continues to transform work and occupations, one area we need to be evaluating continuously is what technology is able to do and how that might impact what we currently do in our jobs.
Stop Underestimating the Impact of Technology on Your Job
If I've learned anything in the past 20 years, it's that the elimination of jobs due to technology keeps creeping up on us. We seem to consistently underestimate the consequences of technological change when it comes to our employment.
One minute people are happily doing their jobs. The next, entire occupations are decimated by new software capabilities or robotics. How long did it take for travel agents to essentially disappear once you were able to book your own travel online? What about all the distribution center workers who are out of work because robots can manage with only 20 human workers?
Technology is disrupting entire INDUSTRIES--hello Blockbuster, Kodak and every newspaper on the planet--so of course it's going to change your job. You have to start anticipating the changes, though, rather than assuming that technology isn't going to impact you and then having your world turned upside down when it does.
A couple of examples. . . Right now, drivers of all stripes--cabbies, truck drivers--should be re-thinking their careers because within 5 years, I predict that Google's driverless car is going to put them out of business. Or, at a minimum, drastically reduce both their employment numbers and their wages.
And teachers, you should be concerned too. Work with robot teachers is showing that they can achieve the results of most human teachers in terms of learning gains and in some cases, the kids actually prefer the robots, as they are more patient and can explain the topic in multiple ways. As artificial intelligence continues to improve, this trend could (will) start to accelerate.
While we're speaking of teachers, we don't need robots to replace workers to completely disrupt an industry. Technology can impact in other ways. The rise of MOOCs (massive open online courses) could be just as devastating to the employment of teachers as any robot. If it works at the university level, it's only a matter of time before the same model works its way down to the secondary and elementary level--perhaps aided by robot TAs.
Technology WILL Change What You Do and How Much You're Paid to Do It and May Eliminate Your Job Altogether
I say all of this because I think that as individual workers, we are terrible at thinking through how technology might impact our jobs. Unless the technological change is explicitly happening in our industry or occupation, we tend to ignore it. This is a huge mistake.
And don't be fooled into thinking that if an industry is growing, that means jobs are growing within that industry. Over the past few years, for example, we've heard about the resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S.. What isn't talked about as much is that this growth in the industry isn't translating into more jobs. That's because robotics and software are doing most of the heavy lifting. Just because an industry seems to be going gangbusters, doesn't mean that jobs are abundant.
For us to be truly resilient in our careers, we must start educating ourselves more consistently on general technology trends and how these could start disrupting the industries and occupations we work in. Here's an example of what I mean. Read this from How the Internet Made Us Poor:
In a gleaming new warehouse in the old market town of Rugley, England, Amazon directs the actions of hundreds of “associates” wielding hand-held computers. These computers tell workers not only which shelf to walk to when they’re pulling goods to be shipped, but also the optimal route by which to get there. Each person’s performance is monitored, and they are given constant feedback about whether or not they are performing their job quickly enough. Their bosses can even send them text messages via their handheld computers, urging them to speed up. “You’re sort of like a robot, but in human form,” one manager at Amazon’s warehouse told the Financial Times. “It’s human automation, if you like.”
Now let's apply this to nurses in a hospital. Imagine them walking around with hand-held computers that give them feedback on each patient hooked up to wireless monitors that track everything going on in the patient's body (smart pills will come into play here too). Nurses are able to administer medications, monitor vital signs, etc. on multiple patients through these devices. Bosses can monitor how efficiently they are carrying out their duties and send them messages urging them to speed things up. You may think this won't happen, but I promise you that it already is.
In general, when it comes to technology, you should assume that if your job involves routine processing of information aided by computer software, then either that job is virtually going to be eliminated (think travel agents and administrative assistants) or there is going to be HUGE downward pressure on wages--neither of which is good for you.
Don't assume that this applies only to "lower-level" jobs either. One of the reasons we're seeing massive reductions in employment for lawyers is because software can now more efficiently and effectively do the routine document reviews and filings once done by entry-level attorneys. By one estimate, one attorney can do the work of 500 lawyers now.
Another way to think about it--If your job involves telling a computer what to do (think programmers), then you are in pretty good shape. If a computer is telling you what to do, start planning for something else.
The push for profits and productivity is going to continue to drive the spread of technology. We will not be putting the technology genie back in the bottle. The issue for you is to start thinking NOW about how you're going to respond.
- Do you need to start looking for another occupation, beginning the re-training process now, rather than when you get laid off?
- Do you need to start developing additional skill sets that will help you adapt to changes that may be coming your way and that would make you more valuable in a technology-enhanced occupation?
- Is self-employment an area you need to explore, recognizing that entrepreneurs and owners of capital will be the winners in a technology-enhanced future?
Technology is happening. How are you going to respond?
A Technology and Jobs Reading List
If you want to dive more deeply into this topic, here are some resources to get you started:
- How the Internet Made Us Poor
- Job Fight: Haves vs. the Have Nots
- Better Than Human: Why Robots Will-And Must-Take Our Jobs
- Holy Hal! A Robot Stole My Job!
- 60 Minutes: Are Robots Hurting Job Growth? (answer--yes they are)
- The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers from the Rise of Robots
- The Age of Big Data
- Are You Prepared for the Internet of Things?
- UPDATE--Harold Jarche's bookmarks for "Automated and Outsourced"
- UPDATE--The Tech Debate Blasts Off: A Linkfest
Also, I would highly recommend doing some google searches on technology and your industry. Try searching on:
- "robotics and (your industry)"
- "robots and (your industry)"
- "nanotechnology and (your industry)"
- "automation and (your industry)"
And here are some resources to help you keep yourself relevant and employed in a technology-enhanced world.
- A Whole New Mind--Although Dan Pink's book is 7 years old now, it still has some important things to say about how to technology-proof yourself for work.
- Managing Your Career When You Have More than One--Think multiple income streams and self-employment instead of full-time, permanent job.
- Become Your Own Job Creator--How to take advantage of disruptive trends.
UPDATE--Here's another link to add to your reading list from Harold Jarche--The Post Job Economy. Thanks to Marco Campana for the link.
A huge part of developing your career resilience is paying attention to what's going on in your external environment. Technology is one of the biggest trends likely to impact your career. You need to start thinking now about how you're going to respond. And you need to put some structures into place that let you keep up with how technology could change what you're doing in the future. Otherwise, you're going to be caught in the technology squeeze that has left us with more job seekers than available jobs.
Just yesterday the New York Times ran this article about radiologists -- MDs whose job opportunities are disappearing because the reading of imagery is being sent offshore.
One 28-year-old is four years into his residency and has $300,000 in debt.
Posted by: Dave Ferguson | March 29, 2013 at 09:28 AM
Dave--the college debt issue is HUGE! There was another article in the NYT not too long ago about a NY law firm hiring administrative assistants for $10/hour and they had to have a BA. That's simply unsustainable. It's bad enough what we're doing to young people, but now we older folks must be training and re-training too, on top of paying for children and saving for retirement. I really don't see how that's possible for most of us anymore.
There are much bigger issues we're going to have to deal with as a society within the next few years. We should be addressing them now, but apparently we are a crisis-driven people.
Posted by: Michele | March 29, 2013 at 04:06 PM