Need to robot-proof your job skills? 5 moves to make sure automation doesn't hurt your career.


American workers are more worried about immigrants taking their jobs than they are about robots making their professions obsolete, per recent surveys. But those fears may be misplaced. While 47% of all U.S. jobs are at risk of being computerized, based on a 2013 Oxford University study, 80% of respondents to a 2016 Pew study said they didn’t feel as though their own jobs were at risk due to robots or computers — not even 50 years from now.

That's bad news. This lack of perspective could lead to a lot of unemployed adults, if they don't find a way to pivot their career paths.

Food service and manufacturing are among the jobs most likely to be automated — a process already underway. Next time you sit down at your local eatery, don't be surprised if a robot waiter takes your order. SoftBank recently test-drove its food-service robot at a Pizza Hut in California's Oakland International Airport, acting as both host and airport guide.

And even fields that are at low risk of being totally automated could be affected, too, since robotization of one job could shift the responsibilities of another. Finance jobs are theoretically at lower risk, for example, but a mortgage officer who spends up to 90% of his or her time processing loan applications could see that task swept up by computers. That means many workers will need to learn new skills to stay employed.

Feeling worried? You can check out this site to at least see what the chances are that your job will be directly automated.

"Understand the way that automation is moving, even if it's a far-off concept for your specific company or it may not be for your role," John Reed, senior executive director for the job placement firm Robert Half Technology, told Mic in an email. "You don’t want to be holding yourself back during a time when you could be enhancing your skills."

So what can you do to keep the robots at bay? While each industry requires different specific abilities, there are broad moves everyone can make to robot-proof their skill sets — no matter where they work.

Here are five ideas you can start with.

1. Know your automation risk

Rather than becoming a deer in headlights when automation hits your job, get ahead of what’s coming in order to be prepared. That means doing a serious assessment of your professional risk for automation.

How to know if your job or company is at immediate risk? Explore your role by asking questions like, "Could a robot possibly do my job?" and "What would happen to my job if part of it were automated?" Since your own perspective may be biased, get some objective data by reading up on the career outlook for your position.

Jobs that require a high degree of specialization or "people skills" are the least likely to be automated. So being a manager or working in patient-focused health care jobs, such as nurse practitioners or physical therapy aids, are a good bet. Jobs that could easily be automated, on the other hand, include bank tellers and workers in the insurance industry.

Identify any of your skills that could not possibly be automated, so you can focus on those — and create a niche that will make you even more valuable, through extra training or earning professional certification.

2. Consider effects of partial automation

In some cases, only part of your job could be automated, which may change the scope of your work. So try to understand the areas of your job that could be computerized and visualize what your job would look like then.

If you spend a considerable amount of time inputting data into spreadsheets, for instance, what would your position be like if data input was eliminated — and how likely are you to stay in that job if that happened? You might be fine. For some human resource managers, for example, eliminating data input for tasks like applicant tracking and background checks actually increases productivity levels and allows for more time to make stronger connections with businesses and employees, CareerBuilder points out.

But only once you have a better picture of what your job would look like, if parts of it were automated, will you be able to see areas where you add the most value — and thus how to become more indispensable.

3. Strengthen existing skills

The best employees are the most likely to keep their jobs and excel in their careers. No matter what the statistical chances are that a robot will take your job, you'll have a much better shot at success if you're great at what you do.

"You want to ensure that once you’ve invested in training, you’ll have a career path that offers advancement," Reed said. Enrich and reinforce your strengths by taking courses to build your skills, while also building relationships with leaders and your professional network, as Forbes suggests. Learn to use new software or processes that could enhance your work.

It's easy to forget about the long term when you are just scrambling to make it through each workday. But that's a mistake: "Make career management a new best practice; a process that becomes an embedded part of your daily activities, goals and objectives," Forbes adds.

4. Boost value beyond your job description

A valuable employee can work beyond his or her area of expertise, so having a strong understanding of how other departments in your company function will work to your advantage. This is especially important if you are concerned that a robot might take part (or all) of your job.

"Take on additional roles within different areas of your business — being efficient in a number of areas makes you essential to the business and helps you truly understand goals," Reed remarked. "The industry and institutional knowledge that leads to innovation within an organization is indispensable and impossible to automate."

Ask if you can shadow another employee in a different department, especially if that department is not at risk of being automated. And offer to help out co-workers whenever you can and offer solutions, as Forbes advises.

5. Explore other careers

If you think your job could be absorbed by technology, it may be time to look into a career move.

First, make a list of your job duties and compare them to other job descriptions to find an intuitive fit, U.S. News and World Report suggests. For example, if you’ve been an administrative assistant who was also in charge of writing and designing the company’s newsletter, consider looking into an entry-level marketing job, for example.

Once you've identified another job, make sure your skills are ready for the transition. If not, seek training to strengthen those skills to ensure you could seriously be considered for the job. Take a class like those offer through the American Management Association, your local university or a professional trade association to boost skills like verbal communication and organization.

Lastly, don't forget to ask your employer about tuition reimbursement. Yes it's true: Your company may actually pay you to develop the skills you need to keep robots from stealing your job.

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