How to Reduce Career Risk and Outrun Job Automation

Careers in the Industrial Revolution 4.0

Plenty of educated, skilled, white-collar professionals have felt like they were too smart for their jobs to be automated away. These knowledge workers are supposed to be safe. After all, automation only presents career risk to workers with more manual jobs, right? Wrong.

Automation is coming for all varieties of knowledge worker jobs. Estimates suggest that automation could eliminate at least 40% of jobs that exist today. In order to outrun automation in our careers—and stay ahead of the computers—we must be willing to pivot to roles in which human skills are valued and we’re not competing with algorithms and processors.

Our current age of rapid technological innovation offers career opportunities for those who recognize the moment.

A couple challenges get in the way of people outrunning automation. First, many knowledge workers choose career fields based on lagging indicators. Second, “successful” knowledge workers can be less incentivized to make a change in advance of being eliminated.

Assessing Future Careers

For knowledge workers—particularly coming out of college or graduate school—there can be a temptation to choose career fields based on lagging indicators, rather than leading indicators. That is to say, they may seek the careers that are in demand today (or even yesterday), rather than the careers which will be in demand tomorrow.

Lagging indicators are easy to find. There are numerous rankings of the top paying careers for college graduates and MBAs. These are the roles for which corporate recruiters descend on campus en masse each autumn. There is a road map to pursue these careers.

Pursuing a career based on leading indicators, puts people in a better position to build future-proof careers. However, we have to look a bit more intentionally to find those clues of which jobs will be in demand tomorrow and beyond.

We can prepare our careers for the future or simply wander into it haphazardly.

Fortunately, there are some great resources which analyze future technological, economic, and social trends in the current age of innovation referred to as the Industrial Revolution 4.0:

Spoiler: Cybersecurity has a bright future ahead.

Changing Careers

Being discouraged against changing careers is an understandable sentiment. We’re invested in our current careers. Admittedly, people may look out on the current landscape and think, If only I had studied X instead of Y in school. Anyone whose career field is currently being automated has likely thought, I would have gone into Z industry if I’d known how big it was going to be!

Change is the only constant. There was a time when newly minted MBAs dramatically favored Wall Street or management consulting over tech companies, like Google. That view has clearly flipped.

What can a career changer expect, if they move into cybersecurity? Their first cybersecurity job will likely be a step sideways—or more likely, backwards—in terms of title and/or compensation. This can serve as an excuse for people not to pursue new opportunities. Consider this opportunity cost an investment in your future.

A helpful way to ease your transition into the cybersecurity field can be to stay within the same industry. As workplace strategist Erica Keswin advises, “It's very difficult to change industry and function at the same time.” If you pursue cybersecurity opportunities within your current industry, you have a few advantages.

First, you understand how the industry works and what assets are vital to protect. Industry insiders tend to know which assets are the crown jewels that truly need to be protected.

Second, you have relationships within the industry. As a career changer you’ll want to leverage relationships to find cybersecurity opportunities. Applying to jobs online seems easy, but those job websites can feel like a frustrating, black box.

Third, you know how to talk to people in your industry in a language they can understand. Whether your industry is healthcare, legal services, oil and gas, or otherwise, the cybersecurity team eventually reports to or supports someone who is not a cybersecurity professional. A team member who can brief and write in plain business English (or another language) is an asset.

The Future Is Coming

We can prepare our careers for the future or simply wander into it haphazardly. Our current age of rapid technological innovation offers career opportunities for those who recognize the moment.

Cybersecurity is one of those careers fields, which will be relevant well into the 21st century. After doing your own research, you can make an intentional decision about how you would like to surf the current wave of innovation that is occurring all around us.