Self-driving cars, automatic translation, online travel agency services, robotic counselling –where will the automation of human skills lead? Is your job at risk? In short, yes it is.

Automation has already been stealing many aspects of your job; many of the time-consuming simple tasks you used to do are done by computers now, or could be. But that doesn’t mean you have more time! The opposite is true. The competitive marketplace means expectations continue to rise and globalization means you compete globally rather than only with people in your geographic area.

Paradoxically, automation will not make your life ‘easier’. It will force you to learn new skills and to use your highest human capacities.

I see these trends in my own work. On one hand, I need to keep learning new skills that allow me to access more efficient online collaboration tools: email systems, online calendars, communications forums etc. On the other hand, the increasingly effective and wide-spread education of coaches, plus new, highly inventive and efficient forms for delivering professional development services makes my field very competitive. If I want to remain successful, I must continue to learn and grow in quite sophisticated ways. If I only follow trends, I will be behind –following rather than leading.

How is the job market changing?

We can learn from what happened the last time automation reinvented work. During the start of the industrial revolution, huge numbers of manual jobs were lost, such as blacksmithing, sewing and farming. And yet, somehow people still earned a living. Lost jobs were replaced with thousands of new, more sophisticated jobs.

Economist David Autor explains how automation changes jobs with the example of the ATM. When Automatic Teller Machines (and later online banking) replaced most of the bread and butter work of tellers, it seems obvious that the number of jobs for tellers would decrease drastically. In reality, jobs for tellers increased. It became cheaper to open bank branches –less labour was needed, which meant that banks opened more branches, hired more tellers and trained those tellers in more sophisticated skills of customer service and selling. Banks began expanding their services in ways that were never imagined before.

As the industrial revolution unfolded, there was a massive blossoming of products, services and desire for them. Where previous generations owned a few handmade shirts, we own scores of factory-made shirts of huge variety. Business owners have directed their ingenuity and passion towards creating products and services that we were unthinkable prior to the industrial age: Hello Kitty toasters; quick-dry hiking shirts; software as a service; yoga teachers; insert your own product or service here.

When new efficiencies disrupt the labour market, human ingenuity creates anew. We will innovate in ways we cannot even imagine now.  The coming round of work re-invention must also address the weaknesses of the consumer-based economic system that we live in, including unsustainable resource use, ecological devastation, wealth inequality etc. We see this already as renewable energy and clean tech move into the mainstream. And the changes will impact all sectors of society, so we will see changes in governing systems and social enterprises to meet these emerging needs.

What is needed in the job market now?

The age of globalization calls us to higher-level and longer-term learning. Just as high school education became mandatory for the industrial revolution, society must now support learning for even more years of life –likely for our entire working lives. The college educations that our parents might have encouraged us to pursue: engineering, legal, accounting, medical, are soon to be automated in terms of all the information processing and even problem-solving functions. The next level of learning is even more complex.

Creativity, communication, collaboration and coding (the 4 Cs) are the new necessities for professional success:– the more complex functions that cannot be done by machines. And they require a completely different form of learning than what conventional schools focus on, particularly in Asia. The learning that’s needed includes emotional intelligence, both for self-management (risk-taking) and for managing others (collaboration) and an ability to handle complexity and reconcile paradoxes. These qualities take longer to develop as they are built on personal maturity born of diverse and challenging experiences, and they involve developing self-awareness through reflective practice.

If you’ve been involved in either job searching or recruiting lately, you might appreciate firsthand how important these qualities are already in terms of workplace success. I’m reminded of many coaching clients I’ve worked with over the years who were ambitious, smart and highly qualified, and yet were repeatedly passed over for promotion, or in job applications. They were missing certain personal qualities that made the difference between coming first and second in a job competition.

How can we keep our value in the job market?

We need to embrace the next level of self-development education. For most of us, that means we need accurate feedback to find our best development opportunities. Which job or role is really the best fit for you? Which aspects of creativity, communication, collaboration or coding do you choose to develop in depth?

And then we need to engage in a new kind of learning where we focus not just facts, skills and behaviours, but we adjust and develop our underlying mindsets, attitudes, habits, values and beliefs. This kind of learning takes longer, requires personal feedback, self-reflection and practice. It works best in supportive environments where small, ‘safe’ mistakes are encouraged and where people are open about their learning processes. In other words, coaching and coaching cultures are coming of age.

Are you providing yourself with the learning opportunities and support you need for your next level of development?


Learn more:

Economist David Autor addresses the question of why there are still so many jobs and comes up with a surprising, hopeful answer.

New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman’s new book Thank You For Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations

Angela Spaxman
Angela Spaxman
Career and Leadership Coach , Loving Your Work
Angela Spaxman is one of Hong Kong’s leading experts in professional coaching. She is a highly effective and experienced executive coach, career coach, corporate facilitator and trainer. Angela’s leadership experiences, her decades of personal development, her well-grounded confidence and her natural curiosity give her great insight into how to manage, motivate and lead people to be at their best.