In the last installment of our automation series, we discussed the elements of a job that indicate it’s at risk of being taken over by technology in the future. If your own job satisfies many of the criteria discussed, it can be easy to get caught up in visions of obsolescence and unemployment. However, despite the increasing prevalence of fear-mongering messages about the threat technology poses to workers, technological advances in an industry often bring change instead of displacing humans entirely, and there are several constructive ways you can respond.

As discussed in our earlier post, one of the danger signs that you are in a job that could be automated is the performance of repetitive tasks. This situation becomes particularly fraught if you are in a position with little room for advancement and few growth opportunities. If your job rarely allows you to gain skills or experience, it’s important that you set out to advance yourself to better maximize your own career potential. According to Forbes, it’s particularly beneficial to focus on improving skills in areas that relate to technology, creativity, empathy, and specificity of tasks. Keep in mind that your expanded skill set shouldn’t be dominated by repetition-based tasks--for example, it’s more valuable to learn how to design clothing than how to sew on buttons. There are many resources that can help you improve your skills, including websites like Skillshare, MasterClass, and Furthermore, local libraries and community organizations typically offer a range of resources that can help expand your knowledge base, from informative books to free workshops. Adding these new skills to your repertoire will ensure that you don’t find yourself stranded with few employment prospects in the event that your role does become automated.

Local libraries can be a source of helpful resources, and many offer skill-building workshops and technology resources.

What if the process of automation is already in motion? If you can’t beat them, join them! Get to know everything you can about the incoming technology. You will be uniquely positioned as an expert in your field, so joining the team or creating the position that does the automation work will be an invaluable jump for you. As the expert in doing those tasks, you can assure that they’re done correctly. Think of the storyline in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures in which Dorothy Vaughan, the NASA employee acting as a supervisor for the human computers who perform math equations, learns that an IBM machine is being prepared to take over the work of her department. Vaughan begins studying FORTRAN and reading IBM documentation in her spare time, quickly becoming more familiar with the machine than the male engineers tasked with setting it up. She demonstrates her proficiency in programming and pledges to teach these skills to the human computers, thereby earning herself a promotion and saving the jobs of all thirty women in her department. When a manual job becomes automated, it’s unlikely that no human work at all will be needed to operate the new system; it may just be a different kind of work than was previously required. If you educate yourself about the incoming technology, then you, like Vaughan, will be distinctly qualified fill one of the new roles created by its arrival.

Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures

If you can’t join in the creation side, then you can join in the implementation lead. Tell your boss that you know a certain technology is coming to replace your job and that you would like to be the lead in making sure it does its job properly. While this position may only be temporary, it could ease your transition by ensuring you have time to search for a new job. Additionally, your time in this role should provide valuable experience that will expand your resume and provide material to discuss during job interviews.

Most of these strategies require you to anticipate the upcoming automation of a job, perhaps before the decision has been announced. In addition to the warning signs discussed in our previous post, one of the major things to look out for is increased data collection around the job you do. Keep an eye out for new sensors and new data collection methods. These usually indicate an internal or, more likely, external push for information around how your job works and the results that it is providing. In some cases, data can be your friend and showcase that your job is done so well that you couldn’t be replaced. Other times, it may highlight inefficiencies in the underlying process. When there’s new data being collected or coming through, try to get to know it as well as possible and learn why it’s being gathered. It may be a sign that you need to start strategizing in order to protect your employment prospects.