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Early test robots are seen on display at the Akin Robotics factory on March 15, 2018 in Konya, Turkey.

Chris McGrath

Eileen Dooley is a human resources strategist at VF Career Management in the Calgary office

Talk of disruption to the world of work is everywhere today. While no one holds a crystal ball on when and where big changes will happen, the underlying truth is that technology-driven disruption in some form is coming to the workplace, and it’s you who most need to be prepared for it.

According the 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report, Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation, “by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines.” The report goes on to illustrate the importance companies are placing on this very real concern, and what to do about it: namely, either to retrain existing workers or replace them with those already possessing the new skills deemed necessary.

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Automation, digitization and artificial intelligence (AI) in no way replace the necessity for people in the world of work, but they do fundamentally change the way they could complete various tasks and processes. Employees are expected to be more productive as various tasks and processes – often those that are the most mundane, transactional and repeatable – continue to be eliminated from human hands. The emergence of ATMs did not eliminate the bank teller. It did, however, reduce the number of tellers and forced the role to evolve to one of providing more value-added customer services, rather than simply depositing and withdrawing cash.

Whose job is it to prepare for these types of disruptive transitions? Is it the employer’s responsibility to retrain their work force? Or is it the employee’s role to ensure they have the skills to not only do their job now, but five years from now?

Although it is admirable if a company commits to retraining people, the reality is that it simply is easier for many (especially smaller to mid-size companies) to hire new skills when needed. Other companies with the capacity to do so may choose the more strategic option of retraining the current work force to make existing employees more skilled and productive.

As an employee, the question in either scenario is whether you can sit back and wait for your employer alone to determine the skills needed for the company, and hope they pick you for retraining. The reality is that it’s not their job: It’s in your own interests to be proactive.

In the past, workers traditionally have paid little or no attention to the skills they will need in the future, focusing primarily on the here and now. History is full of examples, however, of entire categories of workers who only sought retraining when their industries disappeared in a few short years, or were moved offshore to cheaper labour markets virtually overnight.

Instead, employees should be seeking out and developing the new skills that their company will need only a few years from now. In the future, workers will be asked what skills they bring, and how those skills have shaped their experiences. At the same time, the valuable skills of the future are harder to pinpoint. Keeping up with industry trends and being open to change is key – something that too many people resist. In the past, too much emphasis has been placed on placating those who fear change: Take your time and change when you are ready. We will wait for you.

Companies can no longer do this. In fact, if you need too much time to adapt to change, chances are that the change has already happened and you and your eroding skill set is now well behind the curve. In the past, skills were seen as a tactical element, and experience was the strategy. It is now the other way around.

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Take control of your career. Recognize that AI, digitization and automation are here to stay. You need to make sure you have the skills to do the new, value-added tasks that will be assigned to you. Get ahead of the game by keeping tabs on where the future of work is going and familiarize yourself with how it might change your current industry or job specialization.

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