The idea of the future of work being extremely different from the present is causing mild degrees of panic across the world. With the rise in automation, robotics, financial technology, and AIs, will humans even have a role in the working world? If so, how can we prepare for it now?
In the past, work was defined by an occupational field that was prepared for through education or experience, or some combination of the two. Many people sought a job with a good, dependable company, with the plan to remain at that job for their working lives. Today, the occupation field still remains; many of us define ourselves by a job title: I’m a nurse, I’m an attorney, I’m a cook. But unlike years past, we may have several occupational titles throughout our working lives, and multiple types of employment is now the norm. Today, the job history may sound more like- I was a nurse for ten years, then I went to law school to become an attorney, then at age 60 I followed my passion and opened a small cafe.
The idea of multiple jobs or careers, for many different types of organizations, flowing smoothly from one to the next, is the anticipated future of work. In the future, work will be defined by continuous lifelong learning, reskilling, and microcareers that move and adapt nearly continuously throughout a working life- one that may never end, as retirement is an idea that belongs to the past. The future may have a nurse working several jobs as an independent contractor in a nursing specialty, while taking time to start an online food business, and later becoming a consultant for other small food businesses and a writer specializing in health and entrepreneurship.
Lifelong learning and reskilling means not just formal education, but using open-source classes, certification programs, and other nontraditional means to both keep up in a rapidly changing field and to learn new skills. A hobby or side job may also bring credentials for reskilling- publication credits for a writer, or art sales, or a successful home-based business. The experience and education that come from having tried new skills or jobs, even if they are ultimately abandoned, can be invaluable.
Humans have curiosity, creative problem-solving ability, empathy and emotional intelligence. We know how to collaborate and we can adapt to change. The opportunities and benefits of reskilling and microcareers is immediately obvious to anyone who has tried to find a way to have a work-life balance while working in a high-powered, traditional job. Careers need to be adjusted in order to raise children, care for aging parents, deal with a health crisis. The adaptability that comes from the elastic nature of the future of work is a great opportunity.