Business experts and market analysts are obsessed by one common topic – the mind-numbing speed of disruption fueled by the Intelligence Age.

Whole industries are being overturned or displaced, and traditional business models are being flipped on their heads. Growing consumer transparency and new patterns of buying behaviors are intensifying this disruption.

Running parallel to the warp-speed of technological disruption is a suite of geopolitical, socio-economic and demographic factors. These compounding forces are impacting markets, workforces and employment trends. They’re driving the pace and pressure of technological disruption, and despite the naïve hopes of some, they’re unavoidable to us all.

So what does this mean for you, for me, for millions of other professionals? How will your career be impacted in the coming years, and perhaps most importantly, how can you safeguard your own professional survival?

Analysts often cite two well-known reports when sharing predictions about the impending collision of rapid advancements in AI, robotics and machine learning with the human capital workforce. Let’s lay out their main points so we begin on the same page.

First, a 2013 study by Oxford University researchers set the stage with its now famous prediction that as many as 47% of all jobs in the US are at risk of “computerization.” Of the 702 detailed job functions in the US, the study deemed nearly half high-risk for elimination and displacement and another 19% are considered medium-risk. In other words, about half of all US workers should be paying very close attention.

Then, Pew Research published “Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation,” revealing an uncomfortable yet interesting dichotomy. According to the 2016 survey, two-thirds of Americans anticipate that computers and robots will do much of the work currently done by humans within the next several decades. They do not, however, anticipate upheaval in their own professional spheres. 80% expect that their jobs will exist in their current forms, relatively unaffected.

Where do these oft-cited reports leave us? One, about half of our jobs are at risk. Two, most of us believe technology will displace much of the human workload. And three, we somehow think it won’t happen to us. When it comes to technological disruption and jobs, a majority of us seem to assert a “not in my backyard” mentality.

Unfortunately for these misguided deniers, workforce disruption has already arrived. Jobs that felt safe and secure a decade ago are being revolutionized before our eyes. The examples are everywhere:

  • Smartphones are disrupting the consumer banking model.
  • Disruptors are combining human talent with advanced platform technology to revolutionize the real estate market.
  • AirBnB, Uber, Lyft and ZipCar have disrupted the hotel and taxi industries.• Automation and robotics have produced massive displacement in manufacturing and skilled labor jobs.
  • Financial analysts are being replaced by algorithms; junior lawyers by complex learning machines; and software engineers and developers themselves are being displaced by artificial intelligence programs.

Workforces across all industries, markets and geographies will experience drastic changes. Large-scale job displacement will be counterbalanced with the emergence of whole new job categories, and many of the skillsets required for both old and new jobs will change, widening skills gaps and intensifying talent shortages. As Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic, “Predicting the future typically means extrapolating the past. It often fails to anticipate breakthroughs. But it’s precisely those unpredictable breakthroughs in computing that could have the biggest impact on the workforce.”

Taking a “wait and see” approach to your career is not only risky, it’s potentially devastating. The professional challenge we all face is to determine how to prepare for and respond to technological disruption in a manner that protects you from drowning in the “at risk” pool while positioning you for opportunity and growth.

The critical self-analysis isn’t whether or not we’re in the “lucky 53%” of low-risk jobs. Rather, it’s “What should I be learning and improving today to best equip me for whatever my career faces tomorrow?

In my upcoming posts, I’ll explore actions you can begin immediately to help strengthen the diversity, relevance and application of your professional skillsets, regardless of functional niche, experience or industry.

What skills do you predict will be most sought-after by employers in the coming years? How are you safeguarding your own professional survival? I welcome your thoughts.


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