19 Skills to Future Proof Your Career And Avoid Becoming Obsolete
To future proof one’s career, man has been fighting back since the Industrial Revolution. From the moment machines were able to take over tasks normally reserved for ordinary elbow grease, workers have been concerned over their futures.
This was exacerbated as technology developed at a rapid pace in the 20th Century. Even top business people of today like Mark Cuban from TV’s Shark Tank foresee a future where robots create immense job loss. Cuban said when that day comes, it will be “very quick” and “very disruptive.”
Hearing this may not be particularly encouraging especially if you’re in college and wondering what is out there for you after graduation. However, we’ve got some skills you may want to keep your eye on if you’re really serious about figuring out how to future proof your professional future. Let’s get started!
1. Sharpen your writing skills.
The ability to communicate is something everyone thinks they have, but the coming years will separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. That’s because more communication will be conducted via email, text, and specialty communication channels like Slack.
How you communicate through writing, in other words, will be just as (if not more) important than how you communicate verbally.
Writing is a discipline that will take a much more cross-disciplinary position in the public consciousness. No longer will it be something associated merely with English and literature classes.
Of course, the best thing you can do to get a sense of how and why writing is so important across every level is to read everything you can get your hands on, especially books and articles and studies that are in your discipline.
If something is particularly easy to understand, slow down for a moment and ask yourself why that is. What has an author done to clearly communicate through his written words the gist of the material? By breaking down the language, you will develop an appreciation that will seep into your writing.
2. Learn how to access information.
Information accessibility is more open today than at any other point in human history. While libraries used to be the primary halls of knowledge — they still are excellent resources especially for those of limited income — you can today have access to a far higher volume of information with a simple Google search.
But even over the course of the last 20 years — the approximate time the Internet came to prominence — the means of accessing information has changed a great deal.
We no longer type in a search on dial-up and wait two minutes for the results to fully display. High-speed Internet connections, voice activation and more sophisticated search algorithms have made it possible to simply tell a piece of tech what to pull and then wait a second or two for it to provide the information.
Continuing to be comfortable with the use of technology in the accessing of information will be vital to anyone hoping to future proof their careers moving forward.
3. Make peace with augmentation.
In other words, don’t look at technology as a threat but instead as a complement to your knowledge base and abilities.
There likely will not be a career field untouched by the hands of technology advancement, and in particular artificial intelligence (AI), in the coming years.
AI is the specific technology that Mark Cuban was talking about when he predicted that quick and disruptive job loss. As machines start to take on some human qualities, they will naturally supplant some functions currently carried out by their flesh-and-blood counterparts.
But as we’ll get into in a moment, there will be some things that machines likely will never be able to do, and it’s here that human and tech can augment one another. That is, technology can free you up to do a deeper level of work by taking over those functions that possess less cognitive demand.
The key is to recognize opportunities created by machine integration.
4. Find out if you’re going to become obsolete and adjust.
There are certain jobs destined to become obsolete, and here’s the thing: if anyone is halfway paying attention to their profession, they know exactly what those “obsoletions,” if you will, are.
Take a business journalist adept at writing largely data-driven reports. A few years ago, a company named Automated Insights developed a “bot” that could automatically write certain types of stories. Essentially, housing reports, banking reports, employment reports — articles that are largely driven by numbers and do not require a lot of commentary — could be written in coherent fashion and pushed out to the masses.
It could be done in seconds. The articles were not particularly interesting, but they did seem “human” in sentence structure and word choice. However, it was up to a human being to provide insight and clarity in a way that would resonate with a human reader.
And that’s how many publishers started using Automated Insights. They did not see in it a replacement for their writers, but something that could free up their writers to do more interesting work.
Journalism was not the first field, nor will it be the last to insert the reality of augmentation into a career field. What you need to do as the human part of the equation is this: be asking the questions of how you can add value and fill gaps where the machine can’t.
5. Navigate the gig economy.
The so-called “gig economy” term arose during the Obama administration when many companies decided to ease off on hiring staff (and paying benefits) because they did not wish to get hammered under regulatory burdens.
For tasks where in the past they may have hired a staffer, they decided to outsource to individual freelancers and outside consulting firms. This created a cottage industry of individualists, who were able to break free from the corporate environment for the first time in their lives and earn a viable living without having to answer to a billion-dollar company.
Both the gig economy and the W-2 sector have their advantages, and you should never rule one out if it will benefit you financially and in the development of your skills. That said, you should definitely consider spending some time in the gig economy because of the freedom it affords you as well as the skills like running a business and making major decisions that you may not receive under a glass ceiling.
It will also force you to do more meaningful research about your industry and help you to stay informed of potential technological shifts that will help you future proof.
6. Make the most of downtime.
At one time the country functioned on a 40-hour, 5-day-per-week work schedule that allowed families to have time together for leisure and recreation.
That’s a lot harder to come by in our stay connected world. We have somehow bastardized free time to where it is integrated with work, and that simply does not allow the creative capital to recharge your brain and come back ready to conquer your professional world.
It may seem like a throwaway entry to say, “Have fun,” but the reality is that you will need it if you are going to be remotely viable in the world of the 21st Century.
Make time for you. Period.
7. Vote on smart policy.
Some of the “fix” in the effort to future proof your career may require regulatory reform. Some have talked about a guaranteed income. There is some discussion as to whether that’s a realistic change.
But no matter what you believe about what the right decision is, it is up to you to decide the world you want to live in. That means showing up to the ballot box more than just every four years and voting on smart policies by voting for smart candidates with smart solutions.
A word to the wise, though: just like you can’t control the winds of technological change, you can’t sit around hoping for a policy solution without any effort. So while this “skill” is relevant, it does not supersede the other 18 on this list.
8. Do what machines can’t do.
Machines do one type of work well, and it’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. They are fantastic at performing routine tasks and exercises that do not require advanced cognitive decision-making.
Therefore, stay away from careers that are entirely dependent on routine tasks. A good example of this is the fast food industry. Yes, there will be elements of fast food that always require a physical human being.
But when it comes to taking orders, meet Mr. Kiosk. There are even machines that can flip burgers, cook food, and package it for delivery to the customer.
If a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell really wanted to develop this technology at a rapid rate, they could likely save a ton of money in the number of individuals they could lay off and the amount of benefit packages they could subtract from their payrolls.
As minimum wage laws push wages even higher, these automate-able jobs will likely be the first to go. Therefore, don’t target these types of jobs as your career or you won’t have a career for very long.
9. Provide value for others.
The best way to future proof your career is to always be creating value for people around you. If you are doing so, then people will support you in that effort.
That may mean working for free for a bit or for very low wages, but if you can distinguish yourself while adding to your skill set, then you have a bright future.
That is often a hard thing to do in a society that runs on instant gratification, but it will pay enormous dividends to the persistent. The key is to be more empathetic. Instead of focusing on your own problems, focus on the problems of other people with the mindset of seeing how you can help to solve those problems.
It is a rare person that follows this pathway, and rare people tend to stand out for better or worse, attributable to whatever vibe they are putting out into the world. If you’re one of the good ones, you’re more likely to get good results.
10. Become a lifelong learner.
Ask anyone what the highest level of achievement in education is, and they will likely say “a doctorate degree” or some form of equivalent. In each and every case, such answers are wrong, wrong, wrong.
That’s because the truly successful … the ones who are going to be just fine no matter what technology throws their way … are lifelong learners. They continue to seek knowledge even after career and educational institutions say they’ve gone as far as they can.
The worst part of resting on your laurels is that things do change at a rapid pace, and it is easier than ever to get caught off guard if you’re not reading and studying what is happening in your industry and the world at large. Don’t succumb to that mistake if you hope to future proof your career.
11. Go an inch wide and a mile deep.
For No. 11, we’re about to kick off what might seem like introductory statements, but assure you they are not. There is a popular saying in the marketing community that one should be prepared to go “an inch wide and a mile deep” if they hope to find wealth.
Another way of saying it: there are riches in the niches.
To future proof your career, you will want to specialize in a certain viable area and become as much of an expert at it as possible. Jacks of all trades and masters of none are destined to lose out. If you can specialize, then you can become an authority.
And authorities are who people turn to whenever they need something done, whether it’s in a STEM-related field or a more arts-driven environment.
12. Add as many skills as you can.
And here’s the (possible) contradiction. While you do want to specialize in something, you also want to be as versatile as you can, adding as many skill sets as possible.
How can we tell you No. 11 in the same breath and not be called hypocritical? Because so much of the world today is cross-discipline.
You can’t be in science and not be able to communicate. You can’t be a liberal arts major and not figure out a way to apply it to a high-demand profession. Creating value for a customer or society as a whole requires you to get out of your bubble. And the only way to pop that bubble is to add as many skills as possible.
13. Create disruption whenever and wherever you can.
If there has been any lesson learned from rapidly changing technology, it is that the disruptors are usually able to write their own tickets.
Take Amazon, for instance. Until they revolutionized retail through the world of online sales, there were two sides to the industry — Walmart and the losers. Now Walmart is doing the best they can to keep up.
Apple is another example. People seemed happy to buy and burn CDs until they saw this device from the tech company that could carry thousands of songs on a small device. Suddenly you could carry the equivalent of hundreds of CDs on an almost weightless device.
Disruption is good if you have the foresight to cause it, but the only way to do that is to make sure you’re reading, learning, adapting, and exercising your foresight.
14. Get cozy with STEM and/or the ‘care economy.’
Most economists agree that to future proof your career, you are going to need skill sets in the STEM field (that’s science, technology, engineering, mathematics) or the “caring” economy — think healthcare, childcare, etc.
One allows you to control the machines that Mark Cuban thinks will be coming for your jobs. The other — industries that will never be able to exist without the direct influence of human beings.
While breaking it all down to two sectors may seem limiting, it’s really not because, again, so many areas are cross-disciplined and will continue to be so in the years ahead.
The sooner you can pick one, make peace with it, and mature your skills and talents in those areas, the more secure your future will be.
15. Learn how to be social … and no, SnapChat doesn’t count.
The word “social” has been misappropriated in recent years by one social network after another. It’s sort of ironic considering that these networks are anything but social in the actual sense of the word.
While sites like Facebook and SnapChat are here to stay — and there is value in being active on them — they do not teach valuable communication skills that help you make the most of your relationships, business and otherwise.
If you really want to future proof your job, then you need to get out into the world and interact with others face-to-face. That means setting the phone down and looking at someone in the face when you talk to them.
It’s less common than it should be, and it can help you forge the types of relationships to boost your career as well as your love life and friendships.
16. Avoid a debt-ridden life.
In the effort to future proof your career, strategy is important. With uncertainty being the only certainty, you may have a few start-stops as well as moments where you have to simply be still and observe the trends.
In these situations, controlling your debt becomes a skill that can help you design the life you prefer. That means not jumping into college until you are more certain of a path that will teach you marketable skills.
As one expert observed, college is not for people who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. It’s for those who already know.
Live by this mantra daily and be contemplative about the skills and disciplines that captivate your interests. Taking a moment for the sake of your professional life is never a losing proposition.
17. Invest part of everything you earn.
Warren Buffett once observed that the secret to his success as an investor is that he is often greedy when others hesitate and that he hesitates when others are greedy.
Buffett understands that panic in the markets can drive down values, thus creating opportunities for the patient investor. By the same note, there is money to be made in good times and bad, and you’ll never be able to take advantage if you’re not always considering an investment.
The key is to not panic and to exercise patience. Realize markets work in cycles, and today’s losses can quickly become tomorrow’s gains.
How is this relevant to the future proof effort? Quite simple. The money you do earn can grow at a more exponential rate if it’s out there working for you. This can relieve pressure on the wage earning side.
18. Learn how to define and solve problems.
Think about all the tips presented here and all the realities we’ve discussed. Yes, machines are on the rise, AI is only going to get smarter, and some responsibilities currently handled by human beings will be handled by robots.
But where there is advancement and change, there is always a new problem to be solved. By getting more in touch with your cognitive side and being the kind of person, who can define and solve problems before other people, you can future proof your career.
And the final future proof tip: Become a great listener.
The successful often share one quality above all others. They know how to slow down and listen to what is going on around them. They are not impulsive and reactionary.
By becoming an active listener in class, in relationships, and life in general, you will be able to better absorb the other skills listed above.
The ability to future proof your career is one that you need to begin learning today because we are headed toward rapid and disruptive change. What are som future proof skills that we left off the list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
[Image via Tibco]