What you need to know to future-proof your career

Looking up at skyscrapers

Photo credit – Yloanda Sun via unasplash.com

Is your career future-proof? Some suggest we are going through the third industrial revolution with digitisation. Others suggest professionals will be replaced by telepresence and artificial intelligence.  Are you ready for the disruption of such changes? 

Are you ready?
These ideas are not new. They have been written about, tested in some areas and debated in others. But are we ready for them when they come? Have you thought about how they may impact on you, your work life and capacity to earn? And – is there anything you can do to future-proof yourself?

Awareness is a wonderful thing. Keeping yourself informed on future trends in your industry will be important.  Here I look at the considerations of a group of HR leaders who have recently met to map out what organisations need to do to be ready for the changes. With this in mind, I will suggest things you (and I) should be doing as well.

Be ahead of the curve
Can you be ahead of the curve if you don’t know exactly what it will look like? I think not. But you can start taking in the changes, doing some sensing of how things may happen in your area, and hopefully some sense-making for practical next steps.  Too abstract? Let’s look at current predictions.

The diagram below shows five forces for change identified by CHREATE – the Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise.



What the forces for change mean

  • Social and organizational reconfiguration
    Organisations will move away from hierarchies to become more flexible, with more power-balanced forms and project-based relationships. Networks, social and external collaboration will influence leadership as more shared and collective.
  • All-inclusive global talent market
    Women and non-white ethnicities will make-up the majority of the workforce, alongside increased multi-generational diversity. There will be more differentiation on workplace policies, practices, organisation and work design
  • A truly connected world
    Work is increasingly virtual and mobile with global real-time communications. Boundary-less work partnerships and networks augment capabilities and redefine careers, learning and workplace fairness and attractiveness.
  • Exponential technology change
    Technology change through robots, autonomous vehicles, commoditized sensors, artificial intelligence, has and will reshape work systems that will need more flexible. Distributed and transient workers to be able to adapt to business needs quickly. Likely consequences include work uncertainty and skills obsolescence
  • Human-automation collaboration
    Analytics, algorithms, big data and artificial intelligence increasingly do the work previously performed by people. New work arrangements exist between humans and machines working together to optimize rather than resist outputs.
    (Boudreau, 2016)

Kinds of work organisation in the future
It is suggested that these forces will not affect all organisations equally or at the same time. It all depends where organisations are and how their industry is moving. The CHREATE group created a topography (pictured below) that shows the degree of the democratization of work (impact of the first three forces for change on an organization) and the degree of technological empowerment (the impact of the latter three forces for change).

Source: "Work in the Future Will Fall into These 4 Categories" by John Bourdreau, March 2016, Harvard Business Review

Source: “Work in the Future Will Fall into These 4 Categories” by John Bourdreau, March 2016, Harvard Business Review

The article goes on to suggest, that even within organisations, parts will differ on the organisation that will suit. As such, organisations need to be flexible in their response and ready to respond as the need arises. But what about the employees in these different parts of the organisations? What does the future look like for them?

Considerations for organisations and employees
Boudreau cites Beyond HR in proposing questions for determining organisational strategy.  These are listed in the table on the left, with considerations for you the individual on the right.

Work in the future - two perspectives

Work in the future – two perspectives

With these changes mooted, there will be different work arrangements possible. Not everyone will be retained in organisations. There will be more people finding themselves in more “flexible” positions. This may mean, they are no longer long-term employees. This will see the rise of self-employment arrangements. Contract and transient work will increase. The role of the consultant will be more important. Having work certainty and continuity will be a challenge.

Are you ready?
Are you ready for these changes? Can you see yourself in a position of self-employment? Will you have the business skills required to be able to manage the workflow for your financial survival as well as manage the other “benefits” of employment like superannuation and insurances? How will you manage your branding? Or keep people aware of your capability and availability?

Are you a small-business owner?
There is a level of certainty that accompanies being employed in an organisation where work flow is not an issue and others take care of the usual employment benefits. Are you ready for the life of a business owner? Comfortable with self-promotion? Able to manage the vagaries of cash flow in the early days of going it alone?

It seems to me that the one thing certain about the future, is change. Change doesn’t always happen as predicted, doesn’t always happen as and when you expect. All these uncertainties give rise to anxiety. It is our tolerance for these, and belief in our own capabilities that will get us through. It could be a wild ride – that turns out to be an adventure or a nightmare – depending on your perspective.

What can you do to future-proof yourself?

  • read the tea-leaves – keep abreast of what is happening in your organisation, your industry, your networks
  • stay connected – maintain your networks inside and external to your organisation. People will be a source of ongoing intelligence about what is happening, how organisations are changing and what people are doing to manage.
  • upskill – maintain your skills and knowledge about new developments, technology and role changes that accompany them
  • consider your alternatives – what would you do if retrenched? Are you ready for consulting/contracting? Do you need to start up-skilling for these?
  • be flexible – be alert to the need to be able to change when needed. Resistance to change results in defensiveness that dampens innovation and capability.

Are you “on track” for your future?


Boudreau, John.2016. Work in the Future will Fall into These 4 Categories. Harvard Business ,Review March 2016.
Susskind, Richard & Susskind, Daniel. 2015. The Future of the Professions. Oxford University Press
The Third Industrial Revolution, The Economist 21 April 2012

Share your comments here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: