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5 ways to future-proof your career

1 September 2017
How to prepare for an uncertain future

The future of work is expected to be a paradigm shift for society. We’re preparing our students in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Our experts share their tips for success in the future of work.

A workplace run by artificial intelligence (AI), automated workers, a compulsory digital curriculum? Everyone, from Hollywood stars to academics and politicians in between, have cast their predictions for the future of work. But we won’t need to speculate too much longer. The truth is that this ‘future’, which once seemed so far away, could be a reality within the next 10 years.

At the recent Sydney Ideas Future of Work event, we asked three of our most forward thinking academics and one of Australia’s top entrepreneurs, for their thoughts on how to future-proof your career.

1. Embrace uncertainty

Dr Sandra Peter from the University of Sydney Business School says that uncertainty and ambiguity are two of the biggest issues we’ll have to face in the future.

“The emergence of what we recognise as megatrends – AI, big data, urbanisation, resource security – will create ambiguity and uncertainty," Dr Peter says.

“Dealing with this ambiguity will be one of the big skills, and everything that comes with it: creativity, agility, resilience, critical thinking, learning how to learn.

“A part of that is teaching imagination. Imagination will be a big thing to help deal with ambiguity. How do we imagine futures that have never happened before?” 

2. Learn design thinking

Associate Professor Martin Tomitsch, from the University of Sydney School of Architecture and Director of the Design Lab, believes design thinking will help people prepare for the uncertainty of the future. Design thinking is about putting user experience at the forefront of process when designing products and places. It grew out of studying how architects and other designers work, and learning the tools they use to create.

“In every respect it is about embracing, rather than being scared of, complexity," Associate Professor Tomitsch says. “Design thinking is now seen as a toolbox, or a collection of methods – and also a way of thinking that gives people with the ability to deal with uncertainty.”  

“It provides methods in their approach to thinking, to solve complex problems. Being able to both think convergent and divergently. Coming up with ideas, but also finding solutions.”

3. Don’t fear AI

It’s a fear we keep returning to … ‘will a robot replace me at my job?’

“When you read the news, you’ll see an article about how Elon Musk says the AI apocalypse is coming and we’re all going to die,” Dr Peter explains. “But then the next article says that Bunnings has pulled ads from YouTube because artificial intelligence is playing their ads before racist videos.”

So is AI going to take over, or is it incapable of performing seemingly simple tasks? Dr Nicky Ringland, Computing Education Specialist at University of Sydney, has good news. The AI revolution isn’t here yet, and when it comes, it isn’t going to be as scary as we imagine.

“AI will be analysing and tracking data and conditions. We’ll be teaching a computer to do specific tasks and do them well,” says Dr Ringland. This kind of AI is “not so much terminator, as an intelligent spreadsheet”.

4. Don't put all your eggs into one career basket

Recent studies show that the average young person now goes through at least seven jobs in a career throughout their lifetime.

“That means there will be uncertainty,” says Alex McCauley of StartupAUS. “One of the absolutely key ways of succeeding and thriving is to have a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach, where all your eggs aren’t in one basket.”

McCauley stresses the importance of a broad, liberal education for preparing students for the future.

“Even in really specialised jobs, interdisciplinary approaches are going to be really important," he says.

“And in terms of setting ourselves up for success with an economy and a jobs framework that we can’t really predict, we have to make sure we are incorporating interdisciplinary approaches across their study.”

5. Understand the importance of the ‘f’ word – failure

In the face of all this uncertainty, it’s essential to develop skills in resilience.

“If you look at entrepreneurship and innovation, 95 percent of start-ups fail,” says Dr Peter. “So it would be irresponsible of us not to teach resilience, not to teach how you deal with failure, how to come back from failure.”

Failure, Dr Peter says, should not be looked upon as a dirty word, but rather a vital tool for learning resilience and survival.