Executive Outlook explores AI (and where people fit in)

In our latest survey of 200 job seekers, we were surprised to learn that 90% of our respondents are not concerned about the impact of technology on their career prospects.

Perhaps they don’t see the big picture.  Either way, we need to wise up to the dramatic transformation taking place. How do we have this change without huge society disruption?  CEDA research shows 40% of jobs in Australia won’t exist in 10 to 15 years due to automation.

These jobs may not disappear, but the skillsets will morph into something completely different. Our workplace will be a very different place. This year, Executive Outlook explores the impact of Artificial Intelligence on our work and businesses, and where people fit in.

Technology is no longer just a playground for rich companies.  Today, the opportunities for start-ups are phenomenal.  Behind household names like Uber and Air B+B are young companies that have grown up on the cloud. Nimble, tech start-ups with no baggage, are taking on older leaders with mortgages and resources.  There’s no place for complacency.

There are already robot concierges in the retail space.  Amazon has 45,000 robots moving products around its warehouses.  The launch of this e-commerce giant into Australia is set to wipe $12B from the retail pie, with up to 75% off many products and groceries.  It is also a platform for start-ups.

Volvo predicts driverless cars will be commercially available in 5 years, a prospect that doesn’t bode well for taxi and Uber drivers, nor the 250,000 truck drivers across Australia (potentially leaving thousands without a profession).

The growth of automation is such that Bill Gates has called for governments to impose a “robot tax” to slow down the pace of automation.

Closer to home, the rate of change amongst our clients in Executive Outlook 2017 has accelerated to unprecedented levels (actually, more than our last 8 years put together). This is reflected in our feedback so far (watch this space).

  • There’s “nothing left for graduates to do” in many professions, as technology takes over. The irony is that competition for highly experienced accountants is extreme (they’re scarce as hen’s teeth). Graduates are caught between a rock and a hard place.
  • More firms are embracing Uber-style technology, where everything is on an app, and clients simply select the level of service they need.
  • We’re milking smart phones for all their worth, and embracing Siri as our best friend.
  • In agriculture, machines and drones are being used to analyse ground conditions, water levels, crops and livestock (down to the number of steps they walk).

There is no doubt that companies are pushed on margins and lean on technology to stay profitable. Despite an arms race to create machines that replace people, opinions within our Executive Outlook group are firmly stacked towards people.

  • People are more important than technology, without a doubt.
  • You need people to support technology (to set the scene, lead and train).
  • Technology just supports people, to make our roles easier and more efficient.

So how can you keep your career safe?  Young workers with their finger on the pulse will benefit most from the amazing possibilities technology will open up, in jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

Ultimately, technology is making jobs more enjoyable, interpersonal and empowering.  For example, future truck drivers will move into professions that are safer and more engaging.

So, what skills/education do we need?  How do we cope with this acceleration?  The attributes our clients value (above all else) are great communicators, who have empathy, enthusiasm, attention to detail and are fully engaged in the business.  Whilst you need to be tech-savvy with transferable skills as well, it’s much harder to train in these “soft skills”.  Most companies are willing to wait for a candidate who is the right cultural fit.

Our emotional intelligence, creativity and social skills are at the heart of our advantage over technology.  It is clear that customer focussed roles that merge brilliant technology skills with high levels of influence and social interaction, are safer.  Success in today’s world involves research, planning and cultivating the mindset of a great connector.

  • Know where skills can be found, and cultivate your connections.
  • Great connectors use their social skills and digital brand to create a community across different platforms. They are great networkers in real life too, and often found in coffee shops or events. They are generous with their time and information and connect other people together.
  • They use LinkedIn to share their insights and concepts.

A great connector’s unique gift is to make people feel special, in a world that values automation over authentic communication.  This is their ultimate differentiator.

Yes, jobs will disappear, but new ones will be created.  So, you also need the right skill sets to step into those roles.

What we’re finding at the Top is strong demand across the scope of accounting and finance roles, along with experienced project managers.

Competition is intense for IT professionals with emerging skill sets such as big data, data analytics, Cloud collaboration, digital marketing and coders who can hit the ground running.

Demand is on the rise for cybersecurity specialists, to tackle the sophisticated world of hackers.  With this comes new legislation and increased scrutiny, creating a host of opportunities across compliance, risk management and change delivery. These skills will be highly sought after.

The complexity of superannuation, legislation and investments is pushing demand for financial advisors. The challenge is finding enough professionals to cope with this emerging market.

Other safe careers include:

  • Experienced healthcare professionals.
  • Operations managers.
  • Confident business development professionals.
  • Experienced plumbers and panel beaters.

We’re facing a new dynamic, where more people without jobs will co-exist, with even more jobs without people.  As traditional jobs go, and demand for emerging skill sets increases, this gap widens. The lure of dollars alone won’t be enough to win over professionals with these specialist skills, who also place high value on flexibility, culture and defined career paths. We advise hiring managers to be competitive in all these areas.

We advise our candidates to compile a skills inventory, and know your strength and weaknesses. Research what aspects of your skills are most vulnerable to automation, and where the needs are.  Do you have the skills to match? If not, take steps to upskill or access training, to help make you irreplaceable.

As for the impact of automation on careers, I can’t think of anyone who won’t be impacted, or any sector where technology isn’t integral.  We are dealing with unprecedented change, at a rate never experienced before in our working lives.  I’ll leave you with this thought… Whether you’re in business, working or a job seeker, know where you sit in the spectrum in automation.

Jan Gadsden