The current situation has led many of to assess our futures and the potential risks our careers could be facing, with pandemics and automation causing some of us to lose our jobs. This begs the question: how can I future-proof my profession? 612,000 UK workers lost their jobs during lockdown over the last two months, as well as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that 1.5 million people are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation.
A loophole in the government’s Job Retention scheme is allowing employers to pay their furloughed staff reduced wages during their notice period if they are made redundant, with almost nine million workers being furloughed and most having to accept at least a 20 per cent pay cut. Employment tribunals may be sympathetic, however there’s no guarantee that disputes will be processed.
Here, we’ll discuss how you can look after yourself in the event of another crisis in the future and panic-proof your profession.
Important things to consider
Firstly, try to avoid zero-hour contracts. Of course, for some, decisions like these may not be possible with limited choice or needing a job immediately to foot the bills. According to the latest figures from ONS, there were 974,000 Britons on zero-hour contracts in December 2019 — the highest figure yet. However, many of us on these contracts don’t earn enough money to be eligible for sick pay, putting us at risk of being abandoned and penniless in times of crises or illness.
Try to get a job with contracted hours to protect yourself in the face of another crisis.
According to research by Totaljobs, 70 per cent of workers are considering working in a different sector that has proved resilient in light of Covid-19. Although a sector in particular that sustained and even took on more employees — supermarket store assistants — this role has a high 72 per cent risk of automation in the future due to the routine and repetitive nature that can be automated through algorithms.
So, what jobs will be safe? In a digital age, we must understand and accept that a change is happening in order to protect our futures. Although automation will also create new kinds of jobs, that will require a global shift in training.
Doctors and nurses remained vital in the pandemic to look after sick people and will likely be safe from artificial intelligence in the future. Although technology will likely be used alongside workers to enhance treatment, diagnosis accuracy, delivery, and general support, machinery won’t ever be able to provide a service that requires connecting with humans and understanding them on an empathetic level. Helping people heal and being emotionally supportive can only be given by someone based on social intelligence and shared experience, rather than data and algorithms.
Teachers also survived lockdown, albeit transitioning to an unconventional and new way of work by delivering lessons online. Even though schools are shut for the time being, there have been no major job losses reported so far, as education will always be required and children will eventually return. Software for meetings and productivity such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have facilitated digital learning for schools and universities as a one-stop shop for all communication, including messaging, voice and video calls with large groups of people, file storage, and document sharing. Is this the future of education?
Teachers are given important roles with high responsibility — nurturing the growth of children and helping those who are vulnerable requires emotional intelligence similar to health professionals which robots cannot mimic or replicate effectively enough to entirely replace humans. Like caretakers, people likely wouldn’t feel comfortable trusting children and vulnerable individuals to be looked after by robots.
Rage against the machine
What is one thing Covid-19 proved? That technology prevails — so think digital. As mentioned previously, education is delivered online as well as certain jobs that can be done remotely. Meetings are happening on Zoom and so on, making many digital jobs possible when you have the right technology in place. Although there will likely be some element of automation expected in sectors like digital marketing, the human knack for creative flair will always be required, something which robots aren’t capable of.
Similarly, a 2019 report by McKinsey forecasts that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers could show strong growth despite automation. Highly skilled jobs will likely be the most protected. Tesla CEO Elon Musk agrees that automation will need humans to oversee and manage them — skilled scientists, mathematics, and engineers will be required to make sure things are running smoothly and to help keep technology developing. Advanced jobs that will be created by technology in the future will need like-minded individuals.
Likewise, in crises such as pandemics, STEM industries will be essential in keeping the world moving forward and progressing to combat challenges such as creating vaccines and developing technological solutions. For example, new solutions will be needed in the future to facilitate social distancing and resilience to disease.
Catherine Noakes, professor of environmental engineering at University of Leeds, said: “From an engineering perspective the need to make buildings resilient to future pandemics must be combined with meeting environmental resilience.
“The current response is focused on the here and now, but we need to look at the future and consider how to prevent disruption during future pandemics.”
While it is hard to predict what the future holds for the global workforce, the best advice is to keep on developing transferable skills and research which industries are doing well.