Why Robots Won’t Steal Your Job

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Job and life advice for young professionals. See more from Ascend here.

Science-fiction films and novels usually portray robots as one of two things: destroyers of the human race or friendly helpers. The common theme is that these stories happen in an alternate universe or a fantasy version of the future. Not here, and not now — until recently. The big difference is that the robots have come not to destroy our lives, but to disrupt our work.

Last year, the World Economic Forum released a report estimating that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in labor division between humans and machines.

For new grads entering the workforce, or young professionals looking to land their first jobs, this is news worth paying attention to. Entry-level positions that include routine tasks are precisely the ones disappearing.

What exactly is happening?

Thanks to advances in technology, some computers are able to conduct business processes without our margin of error. Natural Language Processing (NLP) allows chatbots to understand speech and provide technical support to customers in a variety of industries, including food and retail services. HR departments and finance companies use robotic process automation (RPA) to verify payroll systems, create email reports, and manage expenses, among other tasks typically handled by employees. And computer vision now makes it possible for machines to scan barcodes and track packages without the help of human hands.

The Top 20 Roles in Increasing and Decreasing Demand Across Industries

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020, 85 million jobs may be displaced by the shift in labor between humans and machines by 2025, while 97 million new roles may emerge.
Increasing demand  Decreasing demand
1 Data analysts and scientists 1 Data entry clerks
2 AI and machine-learning specialists 2 Administrative and executive secretaries
3 Big data specialists 3 Accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll clerks
4 Digital-marketing and -strategy specialists 4 Accountants and auditors
5 Process automation specialists 5 Assembly and factory workers
6 Business development professionals 6 Business services and administration managers
7 Digital transformation specialists 7 Client information and customer service workers
8 Information security analysts 8 General and operations managers
9 Software and applications developers 9 Mechanics and machinery repairers
10 Internet of things (IoT) specialists 10 Material-recording and stockkeeping clerks
11 Project managers 11 Financial analysts
12 Business services and administration managers 12 Postal service clerks
13 Database and network professionals 13 Sales rep: wholesale and manufacturing, technical, and scientific products
14 Robotics engineers 14 Relationship managers
15 Strategic advisers 15 Bank tellers and related clerks
16 Management and organization analysts 16 Door-to-door sales, news, and street vendors
17 Fintech engineers 17 Electronics and telecoms installers and repairers
18 Mechanics and machinery repairers 18 Human resources specialists
19 Organizational development specialists 19 Training and development specialists
20 Risk management specialists 20 Construction laborers
Source: Future of Jobs Report 2020, World Economic Forum © HBR.org

You may be thinking that it’s finally happened: The robots have won.

But don’t panic just yet. The same report that predicts robots will soon steal our jobs also says that even more roles will open as a result of this shift — 97 million to be exact. These are the “jobs of the future,” and they are actually better opportunities, specifically for early-career professionals.

There are two reasons why:

  • The more computers are trained to conduct high-repetitive tasks that are often assigned to entry-level employees, the more roles focused on complex tasks with competitive salaries will arise in their place. This means that young professionals may have a wider range of interesting careers to choose from.
  • People just entering the workforce usually struggle to land roles with higher salaries because they have to compete with senior candidates. This competitive disadvantage disappears as new types of roles — roles that no one has done before — are created. Younger workers are less likely to be forced to compete with their seniors, and more likely to be pioneers

That said, if you are just entering the workforce, you may feel overwhelmed by the plethora of the new (and sometimes confusing) opportunities. To figure out which path you want to take first, you’ll need spend some time researching what areas feel right for you.

Ask yourself these three questions to identify the “jobs of tomorrow” worth applying to, and future-proof your career.

1) What are the new roles in my area of interest?

Innovations in technology are driving the creation of new jobs. To figure out what roles you may want to pursue, you first need to understand what is happening in your area of interest. My first piece of advice is pretty intuitive: Do a simple Google search. Include the the name of your industry plus key phrases like “future of work,” or “job trends in [industry].” For example, you might search, “HR future of work,” “digital marketing trends,” or “banking in 2025.”

If you need a little inspiration before you start your research, refer to the graphic, below which highlights jobs in various sectors that are expected to boom in the next few years.

The Jobs of Tomorrow

New technologies, products, and services are driving greater demand for new jobs in the industries listed below. The roles are organized below their corresponding industries and are ordered by the scale of each opportunity.

Care Economy

Green Economy

Cloud Computing  Marketing
1 Site reliability engineer 1 Growth hacker
2 Platform engineer 2 Growth manager
3 Cloud engineer 3 Digital marketing specialist
3 DevOps engineer 4 Digital specialist
5 Cloud consultant 5 E-commerce specialist
6 DevOps manager 6 Commerce manager
6 Head of digital
8 Digital marketing consultant
9 Digital marketing manager
10 Chief marketing officer
Content Production People and Culture
1 Social media assistant 1 Information technology recruiter
2 Social media coordinator 2 Human resources partner
3 Content specialist 3 Talent acquisition specialist
4 Content producer 4 Business partner
5 Content writer 5 Human resources business partner
6 Creative copywriter
Data and AI Product Development
1 Artificial intelligence specialist 1 Product owner
2 Data scientist 2 Quality assurance tester
3 Data engineer 3 Agile coach
4 Big data developer 4 Software quality assurance engineer
5 Data analyst 5 Product analyst
6 Analytics specialist 6 Quality assurance engineer
7 Data consultant 6 Scrum master
8 Insights analyst 8 Digital product manager
9 Business intelligence developer 9 Delivery lead
10 Analytics consultant
Engineering Sales
1 Python developer 1 Customer success specialist
2 Full stack engineer 2 Sales development representative
2 Javascript developer 3 Commercial sales representative
4 Back-end developer 4 Business development representative
5 Front-end engineer 5 Customer specialist
5 .NET software developer 6 Partnerships specialist
7 Development specialist 7 Chief commercial officer
8 Technology analyst 8 Head of partnerships
9 Enterprise account executive
10 Business development specialist
11 Chief strategy officer
12 Head of business development
Note: Due to constraints related to data availability, emerging roles in the Care and Green Jobs industries are not listed. © HBR.org
Source: Future of Jobs Report 2020, World Economic Forum; LinkedIn Economic Graph

Once you learn what’s available in your field, and decide what roles sound most exciting to you, you can refine your search on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor.

For example, did you study marketing? Your search may teach you that companies are hiring new roles, like Digital Marketing Specialist — a position tasked with making data-driven decisions to ensure campaigns are successful — that can be filled by employees at any level. Is your passion HR? Scoring the internet will show you that Information Technology Recruiter and HR Analyst are two jobs expected to pop up in the next few years. Both roles are responsibly for collecting and analyzing people data to help companies make better choices.

On LinkedIn, I’d recommend researching people who may already be in the roles that interest you. Follow them, react to their posts, and join the virtual events where they are presenting — but don’t just message them out of the blue. Only reach out directly when you are able to clearly share how their work or ideas have impacted you. From my experience, people are more likely to respond when you show you have put in the time to do your homework.

In your message, you can explain that, as someone who is just entering the workforce, you’re curious to learn more about their journey. If you reach out to enough people, a few will respond, especially if you are authentic and approach them with a personalized note.

Ask to schedule a virtual coffee and use that time to learn more about what their job entails, how they came into the position, and what skills you may need to sharpen to stand out as a candidate for a similar role. This will give you a better idea of what companies are hiring for right now, and the level of experience you need to be considered for those positions.

The connections you make may even end up getting you a referral down the line.

2) Which new skills do I need to master and how?

Most people graduate college with a solid foundation in the area of their degree. Decades ago, this was enough to get you hired. But today, that foundation is only a starting point.

Technologies are moving so fast that to be a competitive candidate, you will need to learn the latest tools and digital trends in your industry.

For example, you may have studied marketing in college, but by the time you graduate new social media channels and publishing tools will have emerged. You may have gotten your law degree, but the same year you apply to your first job, you could learn that law firms have started digitizing contracts and are now prioritizing entry-level roles to help their clients maintain data privacy or conduct internet transactions. You may have graduated with a major in economics, but were digital trading and cryptocurrency management covered in your coursework?

This is where upskilling comes in. Upskilling is all about gaining knowledge to accelerate your career by closing skill gaps that can help you advance in your industry. If you’re the marketing major, it’s about mastering those new social media channels. If you’re the law student, it’s about studying data protection. And if you’re the economics wiz, it’s about educating yourself on digital trading trends.

How do you start?

List the skills related to the role (or roles) you are most interested in applying to. You can find these within job descriptions, or through the connections you make and research you conduct on sites like LinkedIn.

What skills are required for your dream role that you don’t yet have? What trainings or certifications have other professionals in these positions acquired? For example, if you are searching for digital marketing positions, you may find that many open roles require “hands-on experience with Google Analytics” or “expertise in paid search.” Create a matrix to prioritize each skill you want to acquire, ranking how useful it will be for your target jobs and how much time it would require to learn. A basic understanding of most skills won’t take more than two to three weeks.

Many digital tools can be learned online for free through YouTube tutorials. Even more can be mastered if you invest in taking online courses. Platforms like Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn, Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning are great places to start, and some tech companies, including Amazon, offer free training too.

Don’t forget to add your newly acquired skills to your resume. Online course certificates prove not only that you are up to date with the latest trends, but also that you are willing to keep learning and adapt yourself to the new times.

3) What else can you offer?

What makes you unique? It could be that you are fluent in multiples languages, that you have exceptional creative writing skills, that you are a master networker, or even that you grew up in a different country than the one in which you are applying to, and therefore, have a deeper understanding of international markets or cultures.

Throughout my career, I have seen junior colleagues given more responsibilities faster for using the qualities that set them apart to get ahead on their teams or in their industries. Ask yourself: What skills have I acquired over the years because of who I am, where I am from, or what I am passionate about? Maybe you organized several clubs throughout your college years and have exceptional organization and leadership skills. Or maybe you’ve developed an exceptional work ethic through your background as an athlete.

If you are not sure about what unique qualities you have to offer (sometimes it can be hard to take a step back and analyze ourselves in this way), try sending an email to your fellow students, colleagues, friends, or family members asking what differentiates you from other people in their eyes. Many times, others see our strengths before we do.

The ability to combine the new tools you learn through upskilling with what makes you unique will help you build a resume that stands out. And if you can provide specific examples of situations in which you used this combination of skills to accomplish a task or goal, it will give you a leg up during screenings and interviews.

Machines may be disrupting the entry jobs market, but as a young professional, remember that technology is here to help you. Most companies worth applying to are looking for different people, with different interests and experiences, who can add new perspectives to their teams. Robots may have a smaller margin of technical error, but they lack your humanity, your quirks, and the rare and distinctive qualities that make you who you are. Blend those qualities with the technical skills required for the exciting roles coming your way, and you will be setting yourself up for success both now, and in the future.