How to Future Proof Yourself Against the Job Apocalypse
Brace yourselves, winter is coming… along with a JOB APOCALYPSE!
No doubt you’ll have heard that we’re losing jobs to robots and machines. Over the past two centuries, rapid advances in technology is giving way to a rising paranoia in catastrophic job loss...
And that paranoia is absolutely valid, but contained to the blue-collar workforce.
But guess what? And this next part is scary – like I, Robot with Will Smith scary.
The robots have turned their evil eye on professional services jobs, like lawyers and data entry, but also time-honoured noble professions, like medicine.
Without jobs, how are we supposed to retain our humanity, our ability to live?! Our ability to love?! Has the whole world gone stark raving mad?!
Well, maybe I’m being a tad alarmist.
But the fact of the matter remains, technological advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation is taking no quarter. No task is too complex, no job is too human. The robots want to put all of us in the unemployment line – for good.
A robot war against white collar jobs!
White collar careers no longer offer the same job security they once did. It’s all now about algorithms, automation and AI.
Technology has already begun to impact accountants, traders and those in financial services who are being replaced by algorithms that automate a lot of their work.
For example, products like Xero, Intuit and MYOB have almost eradicated the traditional bookkeeper. And the more humanist roles, including lawyers and doctors, aren’t far behind!
Computers are becoming commonplace in the courtroom and functions once performed by graduate lawyers are diminishing. All the grunt work of categorising, organising and filing cases… GONE!
As we work towards a “paperless society” we are unconsciously working towards a more people-less society, too.
People-less courtrooms, people-less classrooms and even people-less hospitals...
That just doesn't sound right!
Yep, hospitals are already trialing robots to replace doctors and it's almost a certainty that they'll replace surgeons.
As an aside, why would any sick person head out to the doctor’s office when a robot on your bedside table can give you a diagnosis by simply checking your pulse, assessing your symptoms and taking your temperature by sticking an implement up your…
BUT, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If they can automate a truck, it's fair to assume that given enough time, they can automate a doctor or a lawyer. The problem is, it's happening MUCH faster than we thought. If doctors are on the chopping block today - what's next? Likely answer, everything.
But before we set off the alarm bells and start heading for our underground bunkers, let’s take a look at how we can combat the job apocalypse before it even begins.
Beat the Robots by Studying Smart
So, how do you futureproof yourself against the job apocalypse?
That’s what is all breaks down to, really. And there’s one really simple solution to that question:
Be smart about what you study!
You’ve probably heard that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are the way to go, which makes sense... on face value.
Learning STEM skills to help develop and maintain new technology seems reasonable – it's a booming industry at the moment. Plus, when the robots take over, someone has to be their slaves…
STEM subjects are a great way to boost your career in the short term, I mean check out these jobs of the future, there’s definitely a heavy STEM influence.
While the recent tech boom has driven a rise of undergraduate enrollments in STEM fields, as the tech develops and we move closer and closer towards automation and AI, tech jobs will eventually dry up.
Technology will have the capacity to take care of itself while humans will be left to the more… well, human roles such as innovating and creating new products and ideas.
Yep, you heard right. According to research, there’s an even better way forward – majors that can almost guarantee you’ll never become obsolete.
Undergraduate degrees that teach students to think creatively and critically, solve complex problems, communicate effectively and understand different cultures.
Majors that fall under the broad spectrum of arts, humanities and social sciences!
Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Really?
Well hold on now, hear me out. I’m not just making this stuff up, there’s evidence to back me up.
According to the Harvard Business Review:
“From Silicon Valley to the Pentagon, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context — something humanities graduates happen to be well trained to do.”
That’s what the Harvard Business Review is saying, so you know it’s a damn good source!
Some studies have even shown that the humanities curriculum better prepares students to become CEOs than more “traditional” and “practical” degrees such as science and business majors.
Unfortunately, arts, humanities and social sciences and more “creative” degrees are traditionally thought of as a less practical choices; yet, as you might be able to tell, this is a common misconception.
So while you may have to put up with a fair bit of “Oh, you’re studying humanities, that’s nice, Tommy. So, what are your plans after you graduate then?” from your nosey aunties, you’ll be able to smugly reply with “I'll probably just rule the world."
And you know what? you’re probably pretty damn close to the mark.
In the changing times, arts, humanities and social sciences have the ability to teach us to think critically about what it actually means to human - an invaluable skill in today's tech driven world.
What it really boils down to is that tech grads make stuff while humanities grads help make stuff people want.
So when the robots take over, I know who I’ll be turning to for a job.
Having said all that, it’s never a wise move to put all your eggs in one basket, especially in the current climate when we're unsure of how far our technology will advance.
While humanities degrees have been proven as desirable in the marketplace, there’s no denying the importance of tech skills for the future, even if just to work out your holographic email machine-thingy.
For this reason, many believe the future of education is not in choosing to pursue a single major, but in integrating education to learn a plethora of skills across a variety of subjects.
In the constantly changing and ever-developing workplace of the 21st century, you can’t deny the importance of flexibility and adaptability, right?
What's more, combining majors and looking at the same problems through different eyes can have a profound impact on the outcome of whatever it is you're partaking in.
Believe it or not, this was one of the key thinkings behind the creation of arguably the most well-known tech company in the world, Apple.
Yep, despite what you may have heard, Apple doesn’t just hire the most sophisticated tech geniuses, it hires the most sophisticated tech geniuses with a background in humanities (or vice versa)!
In 2010, Steve Jobs stated “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough… It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”
In fact, it's not just Apple, tech companies are hiring more humanities grads than ever before with many CEOs believing the humanities emphasis on creativity and critical thinking to be a cornerstone of success to any business.
Take Slack Technologies, for example, a cloud collaboration software company which in just four short years of operation has grown its daily users to over six million and its market valuation to $5.1 billion USD!
So surely the head honcho at Slack must have studied computer science, right?
No wait, engineering!
Guess again, buddy, because Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s 42-year-old cofounder, has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and master's in philosophy and the history of science.
Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?
What’s more, Slack’s success can almost be put down to the fact that it has a heavy footprint in the humanities as opposed to a sole focus on tech.
For years, tech companies have been trying to launch successful cloud communication platforms but fail due to their intense focus on technology and lack of human understanding.
Where Slack differentiates itself (and humanities degrees) is in having the ability to understand what humans and businesses need in a tech company beyond just... well, technology.
Understanding their users is far more valuable to Slack’s success than the nuts and bolts of coding and creating the platform from a technical perspective – though they are both vital, it's the combination of the two that has made Slack so successful!
This is where integrated education can really thrive, in teaching students to not pigeonhole themselves; to develop a number of skills that will allow them to adapt.
If you choose to study an integrated degree that encompasses both humanities and tech, you’ll be well-equipped for when AI takes over the world, believe you me! This is where the US education liberal arts system could really have a big impact in coming years.
Liberal Arts is the Future!
Studying in the US is great for exploring your options and integrating your education as many colleges offer liberal arts degrees – some even offering liberal arts degrees exclusively.
For those who don’t know, a liberal arts degree allows a student to enroll into college with an undeclared major. For the first two years as a liberal arts undergraduate, student are encouraged to explore a number of different interests before choosing their final major in the third year.
For some of you reading in the US, liberal arts can seem like an outdated notion, but in the current economic climate with the tech industry booming, liberal arts is ideal! You’ll be able to study both technology to keep up to date, but when the boom dies down, you'll have the humanities skills to ensure your skills don't become obsolete.
With the rapidly changing workforce (and our impending doom as a human race), liberal arts allows you to be flexible and adapt to the situation at hand. When you enter the workplace, you’ll be able to wear a number of hats and excel in your job.
In fact, according to research, in the long run, it’s the people with the liberal arts backgrounds who are more likely to end up becoming CEOs.
The people who have taken time to broaden their options and develop flexibility in their skills and talents.
Seriously, just take a look at this Fast Company article focusing on three women who studied in the field of humanities and are now crucshing it at major tech companies. Liberal arts doing its thang!
Emma Williams studied Scandinavian mythology and then went on to work for Microsoft on consumer experiences for Xbox and Kinect and is now heading up Bing Studios. She also leads a team that humanises Microsoft's AI bots – including social chatbots!
Scandinavian mythology to a tech whiz... doesn’t really make sense does it? But why shouldn’t it. She obviously had the chops to make the switch because she’s crushing it. Basically, the first company who employed her wanted her because of the research skills she had developed through her humanities study, not because of her tech skills!
There’s also Kristin Peterson who holds a degree in French literature and is now a speechwriter for the executive vice president of the AI and Research Division at Microsoft, and Kelli Stuckart, who holds a bachelor's degree in English and is now a content strategist at Microsoft.
As you can see, securing a job that will outlast the apocalypse is about getting a strong mix of academics to present yourself as multi-talented and multifaceted when applying for new jobs.
So while the jobs of the future will involve coding and tech skills, the ones that won’t be replaced by automation and AI will also require creativity, adaptability, and artistry in equal measure.
With this in mind, here are five degrees you probably haven’t considered studying that will help you become futureproof.
You only have to look as far as Slack Technologies to understand why philosophy can be crucial in a tech-heavy world. Slack's core business benefits come from the philosopher's touch of its CEO, not just its advanced technology.
Philosophy ain’t about algorithms or equations, it’s about thinking like a human. Understanding human nature and asking questions about our world can help make products and services more desirable.
You’ll learn to critically analyse subjective, complex and imperfect information to understand the repercussions, meanings and various interpretations. You will become the go-to person to decipher the meaning of data in a human context. Everyone loves data but no one really knows what it means – except you!
By analysing information critically and logically you’ll be able to forecast possible issues before they arise. Thinking beyond the practical to understand and analyse the ways in which humans experience the world.
To make the most out of your philosophy degree, consider combining philosophy with a STEM focus such as computer engineering as you’ll have all the know-how to not only make a product, but to make a quality product that people want!
Key skills: critical thinking, analytical thinking, creative thinking, empathy
Good to combine with: Computer engineering, science, information technology, entrepreneurial studies
Possible jobs: Product developer, psychologist, engineer (with further study), marketing strategist, risk assessment
Best universities: University of Pittsburgh, University of Oxford, New York University, Rutgers University
Being able to sufficiently and succinctly communicate is a crucial skill to climbing ranks of any business. If you struggle to get your point across and you tend to waffle on when you communicate, you’ll struggle to secure any job!
Yet, unfortunately, effective communication is a skill seldom taught in most degrees.
Seriously, this is not just scare tactics, when responding to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook Survey in the US, employers placed the ability to verbally communicate and the ability to create and/or edit written documents as among the top ten skills they seek when hiring.
Oh, what a coincidence, you learn both of those with a communications degree. Actually it’s totally not a coincidence, it’s the whole point of a communications degree.
Communication, verbally and written, is an important engine in 21st century life. From constructing social media posts and emails to building relationships between businesses and coworkers, communication is essential.
As a communications graduate, you will have a plethora of options when looking to find employment, particularly in business sectors where your skills will allow you to communicate with a client base, market products and services, and manage issues and crises!
What's more, if you can combine your communications degree with another degree or skills in entrepreneurism and business, you could look to start your own company!
Quite simply, good communication can make or break you!
Key skills: communication, empathy, critical thinking
Good to combine with: Psychology, entrepreneurial studies, business
Possible jobs: Marketing, speechwriter, product development, HR, business development, strategist
Best universities: University of Southern California, University of Amsterdam, London School of Economics, Stanford University
3. Research degree
Research degrees can come in many different forms, at both undergaduate and postgraduate level.
In a world where there is a complete abundance of information, which is only going to continue growing, the ability to sift through information and research efficiently and effectively is a highly desirable skill.
Again, the major doesn’t really matter, and what you research becomes moot. As long as you can show a strong background and ability in researching, you should be able to secure a job pretty quickly.
I mean, remember Emma Williams who I mentioned earlier? She completed a research degree focused on Scandinavian mythology and now she’s working at a top tech firm for crying out loud!
What’s more, through acquiring the ability to research, not only are you able to identify quality information, but you learn how to analyse and interpret that information and then communicate your findings with others. If you’re looking to get into marketing or any business development role, this is a killer skill to have!
Key skills: communication, research, critical thinking, interpretive skills,
Good to combine with: Engineering, business, entrepreneurial studies
Possible jobs: Business strategist, business developer, researcher, lawyer (with further study), marketing
Best universities: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Johns Hopkins University, University College London, University of Oxford
4. English Literature
Ah, literature. Is there anything more enjoyable than reading a classic novel and analysing all of its meanings and interpretations until the book is no longer enjoyable? If you answered no, then this degree is for you!
But beyond just destroying young passionate readers' enjoyment of reading, English literature is also great at developing creative thinking, analytical skills and the ability to tell a story – all human skills safe from automation and the job apocalypse.
Not only this, but they’re also very handy skills to have when you're heading up a business!
Yes, that’s right, it may sound silly but English literature is a great major for outlasting the job apocalypse. You can solve problems, analyse and interpret information, research efficiently and communicate effectively – basically taking the best from all other majors on this list!
Need proof? Well, let’s just jump back to the example of Kelli Stuckart, the strategist at Microsoft. She has a bachelor's degree in English has helped develop the communication on many platforms at one of the world’s biggest tech companies!
English literature allows you to think beyond algorithms, conceptualise original content and solve complex problems through analytical interpretation and research of data and information. Come at me, robots!
Key skills: Creative thinking, storytelling, analytical skills, interpretative skills, research
Good to combine with: Business, engineering, information technology
Possible jobs: Strategist, business development, product development, author, speechwriter, marketing strategist/executive
Best universities: University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Harvard University, University of California - Berkeley
Psychology is another misunderstood major that needs to start demanding more of a place in the tech, marketing and design industries.
Naturally, the questions that psychology tends to deal with are that of a very human nature, and as the conversation about technologies and the impact that can have grow deeper and deeper, psychologists need to be on standby to assess and improve the outcomes and effects.
Similar to philosophy, psychology teaches you to understand and analyse things from a human perspective. Understanding the psychology of the human brain is vital to having customers engage socially and interactively with new tech products.
Heck, it even makes the top 20 for most popular degrees studied by millionaires.
Above all else, however, you’ll develop empathy and understanding – the most invaluable traits you’ll ever learn.
Knowing how to listen to people, understand their feelings and empathise with others are undervalued traits in the greed driven society we live in. Empathy can take you a very long way!
I’m not totally sure how robots' emotions work just yet, but certainly empathy will help in some way or another when they take over.
Key skills: Empathy, analytical and critical thinking
Good to combine with: Law, business, information technology, communications, entrepreneurial studies
Possible jobs: Product development, business development, psychologist, marketing, strategist
Best universities: Harvard University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Stanford University
While we can't guarantee tech jobs will continue to grow at such an epic rate, there’s no denying tech will continue to influence the way we work and live well into the future.
Future proofing yourself by being smart about what you study is not about putting all of you eggs in one basket. It’s about learning a variety of skills that can be transferred across many areas of expertise – tech, humanities and beyond!
While in this booming period of tech advancements, it might seem like an absolute must to head towards a STEM degree, this isn't necessarily a great idea.
While engineering, computer science and finance majors are all great degrees with great earning potential, will there be enough work for everyone once the tech boom dies down?
In the long term, you want to be learning more humanistic skills – strong communication, empathy, cultural understanding, analytical and creative thinking.
With these skills, we can start working towards what has been labelled a “trans-humanist” world. A world in which humans work alongside machines in the same way we have with computers, mobile phones, video game consoles and virtual reality!
At the end of the day, this is a human world, and the robots are just living in it.
As humans, we need to learn to work with technology, not against it. At this stage, nobody knows the heights our technology is capable of reaching or which way our economy is going.
Therefore, preparing for the future is about broadening your options and creating flexibility. Don’t pigeonhole yourself.
Whatever you choose to study, good luck. The end is near (but probably not).