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Continued Learning | September 15, 2019

The In’s and Out’s of Automation

 

A robot packages products.

 

Automation Explained, and How to Prepare for an Uncertain Job Market

 

In our last post we talked about four of the most promising career choices for today’s students, citing the current high demand for these professionals and the steady growth forecast for the coming decades. That growth is particularly important in light of a new wave of automation, which experts suggest could eliminate anywhere from millions to even billions of jobs worldwide (depending on who you ask, of course).

As anxiety about automation increases, we thought we would give the subject a more thorough examination. The bad news is that some jobs will definitely be eliminated, and current employees in the affected industries will have their lives disrupted at least temporarily. The good news is that it probably won’t be as bad as many people seem to think, and you’re already insulating yourself from some of the risk by pursuing a college degree.

 

Ancient Automation

 

Automation is a major buzzword these days, but it’s actually nothing new. During the First Industrial Revolution, water and steam power was used to mechanize production processes, and water-powered grain mills emerged as some of the first automated systems as early as the 1700s. The Second Industrial Revolution was powered by electricity, and computerization came to be known as the Third Industrial Revolution.

 

Now, leaders such as Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, believe that automation’s transformative power puts us on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to Schwab, it’s the pace and breadth of change that differentiates the Fourth Industrial Revolution from the Third: “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

 

There are many important breakthroughs powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but one of the most transformative technologies behind automation is artificial intelligence (AI). Researchers are making massive strides in AI, and these advancements are already yielding autonomous vehicles, customer service software that’s indistinguishable from a human being, and robotic financial advisors that eliminate emotion from investment decisions. Of course, that means that commercial drivers, customer service reps, and investment bankers are out of a job, right? Well, not really.

 

Augmenting with AI

 

In many cases, limitations of AI mean the technology is still being used to make human beings more effective. For example, an AI-powered chatbot might answer the most basic 60% of customer service requests so that people can focus on the remaining 40% that demand the critical thinking we humans so far monopolize.

 

The occupations most at risk for automation are the ones that require people to perform simple, repetitive tasks – in other words, menial jobs that are quite often boring and sometimes even dangerous. Still, advancements mean that automation will be a growing force, and eventually even skilled jobs will be at risk. Find that hard to believe? Consider the news that an AI program identified a promising new drug in just 46 days. From start to finish, the process of developing and releasing a drug has historically taken as long as a decade and can cost billions of dollars. Many also fail in the final stages of testing, creating an incredible economic incentive for development of automation technologies.

 

As automation gains more widespread adoption, don’t panic. There are a few things you can do to brighten your career prospects and make the most of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

1. Direct your collegiate studies toward in-demand industries

As mentioned above, our last post discussed some of the most promising job opportunities both now and in the years to come. The four highlighted positions offer excellent salaries, and the pace of job growth in these fields is expected to surpass the number of incoming workers by a healthy margin. If you have any interest in these roles, we would encourage you to learn more about them and give them their due consideration. If you don’t find any of them appealing (or you’re a junior or senior and it’s too late to change your course of study), remember that your job after college isn’t entirely dependent on what you study – especially if you continue learning in the years to come.

 

2. Recognize that college isn’t the end of your education

College is just a single chapter in your education, and it should by no means be the last one. If there’s one thing that automation guarantees, it’s that the job market is going to evolve. So far, it looks like that evolution will occur at a rate that makes the future impossible to predict. In this type of dynamic environment, the best course of action is to learn all you can and remain flexible. Jobs that seem secure one year could disappear the next, but the employees who can bounce back will be the ones with irreplaceable skills such as critical thinking and problem solving that can be applied in virtually any industry.

 

3. Take a purposeful approach to expanding your opportunities

We dedicated a past post to the power of networking and offered a few suggestions for how to improve. That information is valuable in today’s booming job market, but it will be even more important in tomorrow’s uncertain one. Networking isn’t a talent – it’s a skill that can be learned, and honing it will help you get your foot in the door at companies that might not give you a chance otherwise. While you’re reviewing, check out our tips for preparing for a job interview and performing during the interview. As more jobs are automated, those that aren’t will be the ones that require a human element. The interview has always been a great chance to prove yourself, and that won’t change anytime soon.

 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, but that doesn’t mean the robots are taking over. Instead, organizations are tapping into new technologies that improve efficiency and augment their human workforces. To give yourself the best chance of success in this emerging environment, follow the above three steps and embrace the natural evolution of technology.