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THE QUESTION

I am 24 years old. Following graduation from college (BFA, visual arts), I enrolled in a 17-week railway-conductor training program. Working with freight trains has been a lifelong dream of mine, but people are telling me that in 15 years, a lot of trucks, buses, ships and freight trains will become automated, and that I should really just switch to computer sciences. This would be fine if I liked computer work. Except I don't. I love physical, hands-on labour, working with huge machines. As young people entering the work force, how are we supposed to plan a career, without knowing how technology will affect our jobs?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Eileen Dooley

Vice-president, VF Career Management, Calgary

I am not sure you are getting the best advice because the skilled trades are just as busy, if not busier, than all those people sitting in the office jobs. And why do something you are not interested in doing? There will always be a need to skilled labour, now and into the future. The question is, what kind of skilled labour?

Technology affects everyone's jobs, requiring us to be more skilled in what we do. Aspects of work become automated, therefore specialized and more diverse work becomes paramount.

Gone are the days where we would hire someone just to answer phones, because with direct phone lines, mobile phones and e-mail, this role is no longer a full-time job. So, in addition to answering a phone, that person may be tasked with developing presentations, organizing special events or analyzing data – all that require a more advanced skill set than before.

Go after what you want, but be sure to have the latest and most advanced skills in the trade you are pursuing so you are in the best position to succeed in your role, and have the most cutting edge knowledge to prove it.

THE SECOND ANSWER

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Greg Conner

Vice-president and corporate secretary, BC Transit

Let me start by acknowledging there is no question the world is changing and will continue to do so, and that means more automation in every field, not just in transportation. The good news is that a little research tells me the job prospects for a railway conductor are good right now and will continue to be for the next decade at least.

There has been a lot of research done on how many careers a person will have during a lifetime of work, and it is safe to say that the consensus is you will most likely have many in a number of distinctly different fields.

Someone who loves working with his/her hands in a physically challenging environment will always find a place, automation or not. So if and when they automate railway conductor jobs, other opportunities will come up as a result of those changes, and following your dreams, especially at your age, is good for the soul.

From experience, do not go into a career or a job because of the job prospects or money alone, you have to have passion for what you do. Life is just too short to do otherwise.

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