Future-proof yourself by embracing the act of lifelong learning.
Twenty-some years ago, I applied for a bank scholarship to subsidize my university tuition. As part of the application, I was asked to submit an essay that A) described what I intended to study and B) predicted (guessed?) my professional impact upon graduation. I was essentially asked to project the bank’s return on their scholarship investment.
In my answer, I tried to balance my current academic interests (science) with what I thought would be the most responsible answer in the eyes of the scholarship review committee (doctor). At the time, it seemed reasonable to assume that my passion for science could lead me to medical school and that following med school, the market would welcome another newly graduated doctor with open arms. In 1996, when charting your educational journey to align with future professional security, studying to become a lawyer, banker or doctor seemed to be the safest of bets. In 2017, it feels like all bets are off when predicting future professional security. Even for young, aspiring doctors.
In his recent essay for Nature - "Reboot for the AI revolution" - Yuval Noah Harari describes a not-too-distant future where hundreds of millions of humans have been pushed out of the job market by disruptions caused by artificial intelligence. He also suggests that the humans who’ll be left on the outside of the workforce looking-in won’t only be the manual, routine workers who have been in competition with robots for decades. The workplace revolution losers are also likely to include more than a few doctors:
Harari covers similar ground in his wonderful book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, urging us humans not to overestimate the workplace benefits of 'personality,' recalling the fate of horses during the Industrial Revolution:
Given the imminent job market disruption, what can we humans do to avoid going the way of the horses? Picking a career path that seems to offer the greatest future professional security, and then putting all of your certification, skill-building and developmental eggs in that particular basket now appear incredibly risky when no individual career or profession is immune from the oncoming, AI-induced volatility. As a result, Harari believes that the answer lies in revolutionizing education.
Specifically, he argues that mass job automation and the resulting job-market messiness won’t only result in the wiping out of existing jobs, but in the creation of new types of jobs; high-paying jobs that will require humans (and not robots) to perform non-routine work. And that in order to make use of all of these new, non-routine job opportunities, people will need to embrace the act of lifelong learning:
Couple Harari’s thoughts on the increasingly chaotic job market with the well-established belief that today’s middle-managers will be active members of the workforce for decades to come, children and university students aren’t the only people who should rethink their approach to learning. We could all benefit from becoming lifelong learners; continually sharpening our leadership, creativity and communication skills will strengthen, lengthen and deepen our careers and help us avoid joining the horses, taxi drivers, and doctors on the professional sidelines.