Tackling technology-led career disruption head on.

career disruptionHow are you managing your career in today’s world of digitisation, outsourcing, automation and change?

Is the risk of Career Disruption of concern to you?

The impact on jobs and careers by technology-led innovation is nothing new.  The development of steam power in the early 1800s gave rise to the industrial revolution, which, in turn gave birth to the modern industrial and technological world. In every instance, the impact on the employment landscape was substantial.

While disruptive technology is nothing new, what is new, however, is the speed, extent and unpredictability of modern digital technology-induced disruption – and that this rate of change is dramatically increasing.

More importantly, these changes are impacting the employment landscape and contributing to career disruption at all levels and stages:

  • According to recent OECD data, Australia had the 3rd highest proportion of part time employment, behind the Netherlands and Switzerland. Since then, part time employment has risen to a record high, increasing as a share of the workforce to over 30% by mid 2015. Long term job security is a thing of the past.
  • Anyone whose work, or part thereof, could be performed by others remotely from low cost countries by using appropriate technologies could be at risk. With the global market size of outsourced services standing at over 100 billion U.S. dollars, the outsourcing industry is big business.
  • Robotics and smart technologies are increasingly able to perform high level, cognitively complex tasks. For example, IBM is working with the Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. to train Watson (IBM’s ‘thinking’ computer) to become board-certified in medicine
  • Anyone with children who are considering their career options, whether embarking on tertiary studies or have recently joined the workforce, will face a different employment landscape when compared to that of their parents.
  • Those entering the final stages of their careers need to reconsider the concept of retirement. The longer life expectancy and shifting age demographic in many developed countries is requiring Governments and retirees alike to rethink the financial implications of a much lengthier retirements.

Protecting your future income earning potential in the face of career disruption

Any assumptions about the future value of your skills and experience need to be tested in the face of our increasingly disrupted employment landscape.

Essentially, one of the most important career challenges facing us and our children today, is how to identify or maintain a meaningful and financially rewarding career where the value of one’s  knowledge, skills and expertise in the longer term is not outdated, outsourced or diluted by being codified and embedded in smart technologies. Career Disruption becomes a reality

Predicting which jobs will be in demand in the future is no easy task. In her recent address to the National Press Club, the President of the Business Council of Australia Catherine Livingstone succinctly challenges the conventional assumptions about careers with high earning potential:

“Precision welders and robotics mechanics will be more useful in the growing advanced manufacturing sector than yet more law graduates for whom there are no jobs”.

What is a disruptive change?

Before exploring the changing employment landscape further, we need to understand disruption in this context.

For a change to be considered as disruptive, it needs to displace an existing market, industry or technology.  Intrinsic to this displacement is the fact that there will be casualties. The globalisation of trade and technology are combining to become the perfect storm in reshaping the employment landscape.

In essence, it is a form of ‘creative destruction’ – a term coined by Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), who is regarded as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. He argued that economic change revolves around innovation, entrepreneurial activities, and market power.

The modern face of technology and business disruption

Recent examples of technology-led disruption in action include:

  • The emergence of the digital camera is a textbook case of the speed and power of modern technology-led disruption. The demise of once globally dominant Kodak and Polaroid was a direct result of the appearance of the digital camera. Then, just a few years later, the explosive uptake of Smartphones with integrated cameras, in turn, fundamentally changed the digital camera industry itself.
  • The disruption wrought on the taxi industry by Uber – the ride sharing service. Without the Smartphone, itself a recent technology, Uber would most certainly not exist. And, by the way, Nokia, once the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer, was demolished in just a few years by the explosive uptake the Smartphone.
  • High earning, specialised jobs are not immune from disruption. Examples include medical radiology (teleradiology) being delivered from overseas; Law, where legal  process outsourcing is now a Billion dollar industry, accounting , engineering or architectural design services are increasingly being offered from low cost countries at a fraction of the cost. There are, however, signs that this trend is reversing in certain instances.

Is your career at risk of being computerised?

In a 2013 paper entitled ‘The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’, Oxford University researchers have recently suggested that in certain instances, the computerised results of complex non-routine cognitive tasks are superior to the human ‘expert’ as they do not have human biases.

In detailing the probabilities of technology disrupting over 700 occupation categories makes for interesting reading for those who take their future career prospects seriously. They also suggest that given the rapid rate of technological evolution, sophisticated digital technologies supported by algorithms could substitute for approximately 140 million full-time knowledge workers worldwide.  Career disruption is a real risk to many.

Automation becomes ‘smart’.

The human-like computer HAL portrayed in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is increasingly becoming a reality. With the rapid evolution of the latest generation of powerful digital technologies including cognitive computing, Big Data, advanced analytics and mobile devices, the computerisation of non-routine cognitive tasks can be the game changer for those whose jobs depend on specialised, knowledge intensive skills.

Additionally, the business case for the progressive computerization of complex tasks can be compelling.

Unlike people, technology is rapidly scalable at low marginal cost, and that can be the game changer for those whose careers are most at risk of disruption.

Check the assumption that a university education benefits all

For those school leavers and uni students seeking to gain a foothold in the workforce with a meaningful job that is their chosen area of study is becoming an increasing challenge. Gaining a Uni degree is increasingly becoming the default position of may school leavers.

Whilst the personal benefits of acquiring knowledge are not disputed, the hypothesis that attending a university will result in a net positive return in the investment in time and money needs to be tested.

The challenge facing anyone at the start of their careers lies in choosing the appropriate career in the face of increasing competition for jobs, lower salaries and increased uncertainty – yet will be rewarding, fulfilling and, more importantly resilient, not resistant, to change.

The antidote to the threat of career democratisation

Individuals wishing to protect themselves from career disruption and to be successful should expect to take a more deliberate and planned approach to their careers.

At the core of this planning approach is to regard your own occupation as your business.

Being employed is no different to running your own business in that you are deriving an income from your one client – that being your current employer. This applies whether you are employed in a for-profit, not-for-profit business, government agency or any other organisation for that matter.

Most importantly, whilst your current employer may dictate the terms of your employment, you should be the one in charge of your career.

Employees need to think of themselves and their careers as if it were a business enterprise – that must be evolved, grown, sometimes re-directed and above all – protected.

Question is: Can you recognise these career-shaping changes before your employer notices them? If so, you’re well down the path of building job and  income  resilience.