Stand out at work so you aren’t replaced by a robot

First published in the New Zealand Herald

There’s only one way to stand out in today’s job market and that’s to be an outstanding candidate and valued member of staff — but without on-going upskilling you could end up at the bottom of the pile.

Adam Shapley, managing director of Hays in New Zealand says: “Most jobs are — or soon will be — impacted by automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

“This is a direct response to the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, which is not only here but rapidly gaining ground.”

The fourth industrial revolution is when hardware, software, and biology are combined to work cohesively — it is changing the way we work.

Automation, robotics and AI are being used to perform routine, repetitive and often time-consuming tasks,” says Shapley. “So it’s important to be proactive and take the appropriate action now so that your career will benefit from the inevitable automation that’s coming.”

He says an executive assistant could use software to manage travel bookings, schedule meetings, or ‘read’ reports to extract key points as a summary for their boss.

“Digital skills are no longer viewed as nice-to-haves,” he says. “They won’t help you stand out from the crowd anymore. Today, they’re considered standard requirements and any candidate who hasn’t made upskilling a regular component of their weekly or monthly schedule will be at a serious disadvantage.

“For example, architects are starting to use virtual and augmented reality to help clients understand how a design will not only look but to experience how it will function.

“Fund managers are using AI to track media and social media stories about particular companies to glean important information that could impact share prices. HR professionals are using chatbots to deal with basic staff inquiries.

“People must stay relevant to remain employable. Given how quickly technology changes, skills-building needs to be a top priority for employees and employers alike.”

According to a Hays survey of 1253 Kiwi professionals just one third are aware of the latest digital trends related to their job. But though 96 per cent of those who took part in the survey agreed upskilling is important, only half practiced what they preached. Those same people said they would be more likely to shortlist a candidate who demonstrated continuous learning.

Shapley says: “Leaders should become role models for lifelong learning and skilled professionals should make continuous upskilling part of their schedule.

“It can be career-limiting if you don’t make the effort to stay ahead of technology and future trends. People must stay relevant to remain employable.”

He suggests people follow industry leaders and thinkers via LinkedIn, TED Talks, YouTube, Twitter and other social media.

“Attend conferences, seminars or webinars, join a LinkedIn group relevant to your sector,” he says. “Look for projects outside your usual remit to expose you to new technology or volunteer to trial a new technology to test how it can improve results for your team.

“There are free online tutorials on new technology and applications that can be helpful.”

If you haven’t already, join an industry association — your boss might even pay the membership fee.

But it’s not enough just to be a member — be an active member. Is there a group at work that meets to discuss industry trends and opportunities? If not; maybe it’s time for some bright spark to start one.

Other things you can do to stay on top include asking to join projects at work that will stretch your capabilities and push you to learn more.

This may mean having a chat with the boss to see what’s coming up and see if there’s an opportunity to get your hands dirty.

Shapley also warns that firms that don’t help their staff upskill can expect lower performance as a company and a higher turnover of staff as top talent moves on to more supportive employers.

“Successful leaders and organisations know that they must keep up with technology and innovation, and develop their staff so their skills keep up too, or they’ll no longer be competitive and they won’t retain their people. In fact, 71 per cent of respondents to the 2017 Fortune 500 CEO survey said they now view their company as a technology company.”

The bottom line is that all this effort, as fun as it may be, is all about you and your career.

“So a part of this ongoing learning has to be about your future and where you want to be in five years’ time.

Shapley says you should showcase that you’re a constant learner to potential employers by updating your CV and online profiles with new software or skill competencies.

“You could even consider sharing your new knowledge on social media or through ‘think pieces’,” he says.