Last updated May 31, 2017 at 11:19 am
Futurist Kristin Alford tells you how to map your career in a fast-changing world.
As you plan for the next few years of study and consider career options, you will hear a lot of advice! In a digitally rich future, for example, you should learn to code. This will enable you to create new apps, software, games and virtual worlds.
You should be able to analyse data. Think about the opportunities that are coming with the Internet of Things, where our household’s objects are linked to the internet and we continuously collect real-time data, such as energy use from households or the health of suburbs based on daily steps taken by the people living in them.
You’ll hear a lot about how, with an ageing population, you should consider caring professions like occupational therapy and nursing. Or maybe you should think about developing new medical devices that prevent falls or better control heart disease and diabetes. You might even be told that, in an uncertain future, you should choose something safe: think electricians, doctors, teachers or lawyers. But are these even safe any more? With automation and artificial intelligence, you might not even have a job!
Step 1: Think Beyond Trends
If there’s anything the last few years of change have shown us, it’s that the future isn’t predictable. To truly future-proof your career, your first step should be to think beyond the obvious technological change and imagine new possibilities. Here are some hot tips for careers beyond the obvious!
At the same time our technology advances, so does our impact on the environment. So how might people-focussed businesses – those that adopt technologies to deliver more sustainable living – respond?
Some already exist like architects developing green buildings, or scientists printing textile solar cells. But think about vegan butchers using food technologies to design tofu products that look and taste like juicy hamburgers, or use cells from a cow to grow steaks in the laboratory. Think high-tech, consumer-focused products that better serve the environment.
As long as men continue to dominate the development of robotics and artificially intelligent technologies, developers run the risk of assuming those products will meet the needs of everyone… but they don’t. Here are a few examples of issues this causes already. Service software like Siri and Alexa default to female names and voices; health apps have taken years to remember that female bodies are different; wearables are over-sized for women; and investment is being poured into smart devices that serve just 1% of the population.
Ethno-roboticists challenge the assumptions that go into design and design instead for difference. They might draw in potential consumers to co-design products. Another role for ethno-roboticists is to look for connections between human and robot work. For example, physiotherapists have already been using personalised interactive NAO robots to work with children in rehabilitation to encourage them to complete their exercises.
Doing this means patients are more likely to do what their physios ask of them and that, of course, means improved health outcomes.
Think also of computational philosophers who might observe the way that artificial intelligence is learning and thinking. They can let us know when an algorithm mirrors the unconscious biases of the software writer who created it, or it reflects racism inherent in our institutions. We can then make a change to the system to be more inclusive.
Anyone can now write a blog or film a video that goes direct to the public. But this used to be the role of journalists and publishers. People are now increasingly creating and consuming services and products.
Journalism is just one clear example, but 3D printing allows the same sort of ‘citizen participation’ for manufacturing. Urban food is another area in which people might scale up their own outputs assisted by sharing economy platforms to make better use of skills and assets.
While the platforms might evolve, the design of new technologies will lead to new careers. The prosumer infrastructure provider might, for example, develop new pricing mechanisms using blockchain technology, which is able to continuously grow databases. Or another example would be new hardware and software that allowed for sharing solar energy amongst neighbours.
The pace of change is fast and many people find change difficult. The role of transitioners is to help us manage that.
There could be roles for people to manage the technical systems in our homes, schools and workplaces as technologies are updated. They’d help us live with and adapt to a combination of new and lag technologies that hit us so fast many people can’t keep up, all requiring different operating systems, cables and ports.
It may be that we need more caring approaches to transitions. Think for example about the potential need for grief counsellors to help us deal with our reliance on fossil fuels: to help us say thank you for an improved quality-of-life as we move on to more sustainable energies; or to help us farewell cultural and social patterns that are no longer fair or useful.
The important thing about each of these four potential future job categories is that they are imagined from weak signals of change. But they all make a lot of sense. You can start to imagine your own possibilities too.
Step 2: Think about Capabilities
The second step in future-proofing your career is to develop a set of capabilities that are transferable across job roles, rather than focusing on the job.
It’s helpful to study a discipline that will give you a framework for solving problems. Engineering helps with thinking about processes and systems. Dancing provides spatial awareness and flow. Other disciplines will bring other perspectives. All are helpful when we are trying to sort and categorise ambiguous information.
Having deep knowledge about something – in one particular area – will remain important, even in an information-rich world where we can search for anything immediately. Deep knowledge is important to make creative leaps of connection across disciplines, for things that aren’t yet searchable. Creative leaps across knowledge domains are also harder to automate.
In a world where we are trapped by desks and screens, it’s important to find a way of grounding yourself physically. We’ve had a habit of separating trades from abstract thinking, but the combination of heads and hands allows for more creative expression in prototyping ideas, or producing items that can’t be replicated by anyone else.
Finally, developing a self-awareness that allows you to recognise your strengths and interests so you can identify work that matches your purpose will make work more meaningful.
Things are going to get weird. Don’t listen to prophets who promise you answers. Listen to those with imagination and purpose and you’ll do fine at navigating this yourself.
Dr Kristin Alford is a futurist and director of the new Science Creativity Education Studio at the University of South Australia, which opens in 2018.
Originally published in Ultimate Careers magazine. Read the magazine and find your Ultimate Careers here.