Future careers: Are you ready to shape-shift?

Futuristic photo of a space-age woman, as a metaphor for changing career futuresI don’t know about you, but the future I grew up with was far-off, and faintly ridiculous.

Whenever movies showed someone from the future, they were typically oddly dressed and more than a bit cheesy. They’d swan around in silver boiler suits, talking to brains in jars… or zip around in flying cars.

Hard to take seriously, even as a kid.

But I could never have predicted the future I’m living, and working in now.

I skype my clients, have virtual colleagues and can work pretty much anywhere. The internet, smart-phones, hot-desking… all beyond my imagination then, yet they’re real, here, and changing our lives. And the future’s going to keep shifting, in ways that we may all find hard to grasp.

This was a central theme at the Career Development Association of Australia’s recent conference; Like it or not, the world of work is shifting around us. 

And to build sustainable careers, we need to shift with it.

Wherever you work and whatever you do, these changes are going to directly impact you, your career and your life – so it pays to prepare.

To that end: 3 points to ponder, on the future of careers…

1. New technology will drive your career

Technology has exploded over the past decade, revolutionising the way we work… and we’re only just starting. Google Glass, 3-D printers, viable artificial intelligence… there are so many new developments which may yet reinvent our lives, and careers. Who knows what’s next?

The only guarantee is technological change… and from that, changing labour needs. 

Look around. Increasingly, labour jobs are disappearing, and we’re moving to a more qualified, knowledge-based economy. Knowledge needs updating, so you’ll need to be a life-long learner, if you want to stay relevant and in demand. How employable you are in 5, 10 or 15 years time will depend on it. 

Suggestion? Take a step back and look at the long-term trends in your job, field and industry. What’s coming – and what skills will you need? If the writing’s on the wall for your work, take action – reinvent. Don’t wait to become obsolete.

2. Globalisation will create opportunities… and competition

Once upon a time, work had a physical, geographical catchment area; you had to be there to work there. These days, not so much.

Now, military personnel don’t have to visit conflict zones to conduct air strikes; pilots can operate drones remotely, hitting targets thousands of kilometres away. Surgeons can perform complex operations via remote-operated robots. And every day, businesses outsource projects – from freelance news articles to graphic design, or web programming – to online contractors, across the globe.

By removing physical and national barriers, technology’s opening a world of opportunities up to you… and to anyone else with marketable skills, and access to technology.

At the same time, talent’s becoming more mobile than ever before, and as global economies falter and shift, you can increasingly expect to compete with highly skilled migrants, in an increasingly international marketplace.

Suggestion? Expand your own horizons. What’s the market for what you do? Who’s your audience, where are they – and how can you reach them? Use the technology to your advantage. If you don’t capitalise on the opportunities out there, your competitors will.

3. Your work will be temporary – and your career, yours to drive

Alongside technological change, the last decade has seen global economies shift, falter and – in some cases – fail. We’ve seen drastic under and un-employment in the US, UK and Europe, alongside growing development in India and China – and these shifts have sent ongoing world-wide ripples… industry booms, busts and subsequent waves of cost-cutting and redundancy.

In this environment, the job for life is gone.

In a volatile economy, businesses who can run lean and agile – ready to pivot in response to change – will enjoy a competitive advantage. They’ll respond quicker to shifts, with less costs.

That translates, in hiring terms, into more part-time and casual roles, short-term and project-based contracts, and increased out-sourcing. We’re already seeing the shift now, and it will directly affect your career.

In the past, your employer may have looked after you, paid for your training and planned your career path. Then, you were a long-term investment, and an asset to grow… in the future, that’s much less likely. So be grateful for what you’ve enjoyed… and then shift your expectations.

In future, no-one will be responsible for your career, but you. Own it. 

Suggestion? Start thinking like a free agent now. Invest in yourself and keep developing your value – ensure your skills are up to date, grow your networks and build your profile. In a world of temporary work, you’ll need to be proactive, adaptable and well connected. Add strings to your bow.

Forget silver suits, this is the future we can really expect. 

No-one knows quite how things will play out, but the world is changing – careers are changing – and how you respond is entirely up to you. 

There will be new roles, new fields and new opportunities, and you can engage, adapt and ride the wave – capitalise on change and exploit new opportunities – or you can sit back, drop out and effectively phase yourself out.

What you can’t do is opt out. Like it or not, the future’s coming…


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