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Looking beyond nine-to-five

Technology is changing the face of work faster than we realise. How can you plan your career in the face of technological disruption?

Twelve thousand years ago, people would typically walk 10-15km a day. Now they spend most of their day in a cubicle, just a few square metres in size. 

Our bodies are not designed for ‘factory’ work. Our brains are wired to be creative and make decisions throughout the day. Today, in many organisations, creativity is frowned upon and, in many cases, decision-making is something your boss does for you.

Young people do not want to turn up day after day to the same factory (or office) at a fixed time. We are mobile creatures and this goes against our nature. Similarly, we are social creatures and would prefer not to have to wait until the end of the working day to progress our personal lives.

Who wants to be a corporate cog, where creativity is stifled and independent thought is frowned upon? In fact, who wants a very well-paid job that has you in a constant state of anxiety and with no time to enjoy your cash surplus? Many people do not realise they are little more than technology placeholders in the factory machine.

Millennials make up the majority of today's workforce and are likely to do so for another half a century, so companies cannot simply wait for this highly demanding cadre of workers to move on. The expectations I have described are here to stay, and organisations that fail to adjust will fail. 

Good talent attracts good customers, and if organisations cannot attract and retain the best talent, they will see their clients gravitating to where the best talent is employed.

This feels like talent utopia – but it is not so straightforward. Not so long ago, economy status aside, you chose a career and simply hopped onto the career conveyor belt associated with that profession. The conveyor belt might lead you through tertiary education and onwards in an upward trajectory, entailing greater pay and greater responsibility.

Today's professions may be replaced by automation

But while we know we will continue to need doctors, lawyers and architects, we cannot be sure to what extent these roles will be automated. Much of the human element may well disappear. This may have the effect of reducing the overall headcount required. 

What looks like a safe career today may become an automated service in the near future. Or, at the very least, it may become ‘blue collarised’.

Read more from Ade McCormack

  • In time, digital leader and leader will become synonymous in much the same way as we do not today distinguish between literate and illiterate directors.
  • Digital technology will have a profound influence on the way businesses work and the way they relate to their employees. If you are an IT leader, digital technology is likely to be a pivotal factor in your career over the next five years.
  • What role, if any, will the CIO will play in digital innovation? Will they be leading the digital revolution, or will they be relegated to running the infrastructure?
  • This report by digital strategist Ade McCormack looks at the strategic impact of these trends and officers CIOs advice on how to turn these trends into business advantage.

Those about to embark on a career face great uncertainty. So do those of us who are in the midst of our career, although many have little time to reflect on this reality. It is a great shock for those who leapt onto their chosen conveyor belt, expecting the journey to last a whole career, only to discover that they have been unceremoniously offloaded into a skip at the back of the factory, so to speak.

Why you need to test the market

The last generation made their career decisions at the start, and off they went. Today, we need to adopt the habit of healthy economic paranoia, waking up every day thinking: “Am I still valuable/relevant?” 

Market volatility will no doubt result in periodic cold sweats, which serve to remind us to raise our game/acquire new skills. Who knows where we will end up career-wise, if we get this right? It should, however, be very clear what will happen if we get it wrong.

Silicon Valley gives us a clue as to how to address this. Imagine your career is a lean startup. You have an idea of the direction in which you want to proceed, but before you invest too heavily, you test the market. 

Testing the market is critical. If there is no demand, then, at best, you are pursuing a hobby. So, in the parlance of Silicon Valley, you will need to either abandon your path or pivot – that is to say change course. Perhaps we can call this a minimum viable career?

It is difficult to develop skills for roles that do not yet exist, yet will be mainstream in a few years' time. But not impossible. Creativity, service, brand management and commercial skills come to mind.

Having a career in the digital economy will be highly rewarding, but only if you learn the new rules of the game. Otherwise, it is a case of ‘go back to the start’.

Ade McCormack is a digital strategist and author of "Beyond Nine to Five - Your career guide for the digital age". Download an extract from his book here.

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