getting ready for the robot invasion
Polymaths will survive the future of work. So go learn a new skill, diversify and remember: computers don't do emotions PHOTO: Doctor Popular

The robots are coming for our jobs. 

We've all heard the alarms sounding over the last few years — the trifecta of robots, automation and artificial intelligence are marching in lockstep, shiny arms raised, taking not just our factory and mechanical jobs but also our mid-to-high level white collar jobs in finance, marketing and, ahem, journalism.

A new survey by Pew Research Center called "The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training" follows a slew of studies, panels, FAQs and articles which herald this disconcerting prospect. But the report offers some hope: with the proper approach to training, learning and education, humans will do just fine in this brave new world.

There's a catch: you have to reimagine everything you think you know about training, learning and education.

Focusing on learning specific skills such as a particular computer programming language will not be the answer, Lee Rainie, a co-author of the Pew report, told CMSWire. "What today and tomorrow’s students need to focus on to prepare for this future of work is problem-solving skills, especially anything related to personal growth."

Personal growth? Yes, Rainie says. "Computers can’t do emotions."

It's Not a Matter of If, But When 

The survey's conclusion was that a wider array of education and skills-building programs will need to be created in order for humans to find work after robots and automation and artificial intelligence displaces them from traditional jobs. 

The report didn't waste time debating whether robots and artificial intelligence would or would not make significant inroads in the job market — it assumed they had. Indeed, the argument about whether robots will in fact take our jobs was largely settled in 2014 when the Pew Research Center and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center asked experts whether AI and robotics would create more jobs than they would destroy. 

The results were a far cry from earlier surveys that came down heavily on the side of humans: 48 percent of the respondents envisioned a future where more jobs are lost than created, while 52 percent said more jobs would be created than lost.

"The rise of AI has emerged to color every discussion about work," Stowe Boyd, managing director of Another Voice and editor of Work Futures told CMSWire. "Andrew Ng, founder of Coursera and Stanford professor, famously said 'AI is the new electricity.' It's hard to talk around that."

So now the debate has turned to what type of jobs humans will have in this new world — and just as importantly, how to prepare for them.

Get Ready for Your Hyphenated Career

"Them" is a key word here. Workers can expect to have many jobs simultaneously. This does not mean we will be exhausting ourselves working around the clock. Rather, as Boyd said, many of us will have slash careers, as in Boyd's friend who is a marketing consultant/chef/children's book author.

"So get training in both modern and timeless skills," he says. "We're circling back to a preindustrial model, where being a jack of many trades was the norm. We've seen the end of the 40-years-at-one-company model, like my grandfather lived, and even the late industrial norm of six companies over 40 years is done."

As for Boyd, "I can't even count the number of jobs I've had or the companies I worked with, on a full-time or consulting basis over the past decades," he continued. "Now people are living different careers in parallel, because who knows? The only thing we can really bet on now is to believe in ourselves, and to hold onto hope."

Make Way for the Polymaths 

Training for this future will look nothing like the typical four-year college education experience that most of us have had. 

Pew experts described an environment where the best education programs will teach people how to be lifelong learners — while we also develop alternative credentialing mechanisms to assess and vouch for the skills people acquire along the way.

Employers, for their part, will come to value employees who are proactive about their learning. Already employers are becoming less prejudiced about distance learning, which is a good sign. Put these elements together and voila — "workers of the future will learn to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract and systems thinking, complex communication, and the ability to thrive in diverse environments," Pew stated in its report.

Forget Training, It's About Ongoing Learning

The report doesn't go into great detail about what practical ways people can train for the workplace of the future. That is because there really is no way to train for it. The fact is, training is not the solution, Harold Jarche, a workplace transformation expert who provides “pragmatic guidance on working in perpetual beta," told CMSWire.

"Training is backwards looking," Jarche said. "Since we don’t know what skills will be needed in the future it is pointless to train for them. If you want skills that will enhance your career right now — then yes, go for training."

Instead of training, Jarche says we all have to take control of our own careers. "We have to create our own knowledge networks and connect with diverse knowledge and skills." That means trying out new stuff, teaching yourself new methodologies or the practical points of theories and engaging in communities of practice.

"You can't learn anything without doing something," Jarche says. And "doing something rarely happens in a classroom."