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The Future of Work

By Greg Flores, Associate Director of Career Services, Portland State University

Artificial Intelligence!





There is a lot of talk about the future of work and how technological advancements are going to cause massive upheaval, rampant unemployment, and whole career sectors disappearing overnight!

And it will happen. Again.

Our worldwide economy has grown and transformed again and again as new technologies have changed the way we work. There are hundreds of articles, books and reports on the current and coming changes. The estimates vary in their level of gloom and doom, so I am not going to cite them here, but the bottom line is that work is changing fast and that the more routine and predictable a job is, the more likely it is to be impacted by technological advances.  I am both fascinated and horrified by what I have read.  The number of people who will need to retrain as their industry transforms around them is staggering and my hope is that we can help ready people for coming changes by building an orientation towards lifelong learning and active career management accepting the inevitability of change, but not resigning to the disruption it will bring.

When I listen to futurists, I think the technology is amazing, and the freedom and flexibility it could create makes it exiting to consider all of the possibilities!

When I sit with an older worker who barely understands their cell phone and have to discuss AI powered video interviewing, I think the disruption is already here and that impacts are going to be devastating for a large number of people who are not ready for the rapid changes.

Change will come, and come again, and in between the labor market will stabilize like it always has.  The rapid pace of change will mean shorter and shorter periods of calm and a constant need for people to adapt and grow to avoid being swept away by the changes.  

There is a growing medical specialty in the area of “transitional care” helping patients move from hospital to home or between levels of care.  I see parallels with our work as career development professionals. The conversation about the future of work does not need more “futurists”. We need more “transitionalists” to help manage the impact of disruption as waves of change bump some workers quickly into the future.

 A big part of our role as career development professionals is to help people prepare for and manage career transitions. There are two main concepts that stick out to me as important seeds we can plant and nurture with our clientele:

Upskilling: This is a fun new buzzword in the future of work literature.  The basic idea is a mindset of lifelong learning and keeping an eye on changes in the field and committing to developing new skills to grow and change with their industry.  Some companies are providing regular retraining as part of the job in an effort to train and develop employees.  Encouraging clients to ask about training and development opportunities when considering an offer or a change will help them demonstrate initiative and position themselves to manage changes.  Looking out for evolving trends and technological innovations and engaging in the “new” of the field

Acting with Purpose: People who feel a strong sense of purpose in their work are generally more satisfied and productive in their positions.  With all the changes predicted for the world of work having a clear and strong sense of purpose can help someone when they are caught by surprise and need to look for a new job or career path.  Helping people articulate their values and the meaning they find in their work can give them a bearing to follow in times of doubt and struggle.  Knowing why we work can help when looking for what to do next.

Further Reading

Here is a handful of readings on both the big hope of the future, and some of the ways to manage it:

Upskilling and the Digital Skills Gap

Aoun, J. E. (2017). Robot-proof: higher education in the age of artificial intelligence

 Future Ready Oregon: Supporting Oregon’s Workers and Businesses by Closing the Workforce Skills Gap

The future(s) of public higher education How state universities can survive—and thrive— in a new era

Hurst, Aaron The Purpose Economy

The Oregon Career Development Association is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable and educational entity.

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