All change: why our era of uncertainty requires a new career strategy

The UK is now in a period of uncertainty unknown for many decades. As a result of the EU referendum no one knows for sure what will happen to the economy over the next couple of years.

And things weren’t that great before Brexit hit. Our recovery from the 2008 banking crisis has been weak. Middle class workers’ wages have stagnated and those below were having an even worse time.

We didn’t get a normal recovery because it wasn’t a normal recession. Business expert Seth Godin has called it “the forever recession”. Although it was precipitated by the banking crisis, it is connected to a much deeper global transformation – one every bit as significant as the industrial revolution.

The two biggest drivers are globalisation and technology. Technology has already eliminated swathes of jobs that were created by the industrial age. It started with simple manual tasks, then some of the tasks of office workers, and it’s moving up the chain to replace the tasks of skilled professionals such as lawyers and accountants. What can’t yet be automated is often outsourced to a global marketplace.

The result is that any role that can be easily defined or described in a manual is becoming commoditised and will continue to pay less and less. This transformation has only just begun. A report by Oxford University predicts that it could leave up to 35% of all workers in the UK, and 47% of those in the US, at risk of being displaced by technology in fewer than 20 years.

Career strategies in a world of change

So what is your best strategy for your career in a world in flux?Over the last decade of working with people on their careers and escaping the 9-5, I’ve been struck by how many in a time of great uncertainty will say to me “I can’t think about alternatives right now, I just want to keep my head down”, but that’s like being on a ship in a storm and saying: “I don’t want to find out where the lifeboats are. I’m just going to strap myself to the mast and hope it turns out OK.This is the worst possible time to be passive.

If this Friday, your boss calls you into her office and tells you that you are being made redundant, what will you do next? If you don’t know the answer to that question you need to start thinking about it now. What would you actually enjoy doing? What if you could make a living outside the 9-5? It’s a lot easier to think about these things while you’re still earning a salary rather than waiting until you’re in a situation of needing to find something quickly.

What is the most useful skill you can have right now in a fast-changing world of work?

From everything I’m observing, it’s the ability to make ideas happen. While outsourcing or automating tasks is relatively easy to do, outsourcing the choice of which project to do or driving a project to make it happen is much more difficult.

Some of the most valuable skills today are therefore entrepreneurial ones: finding good ideas, choosing and validating them and driving their realisation. If you are able to find, own and drive good ideas, projects and initiatives within your company, you become irreplaceable.

This entrepreneurial skillset will also empower you to make a living outside of the corporate world. It has never been easier to make a living without having a job. We have remarkable tools available to us now to launch something and market it to a global audience at minimal cost. No wonder we are witnessing a massive shift towards self-employment and entrepreneurship.

The rise and rise of self-employment

Today nearly 30 per cent of the global work force is self-employed. Self-employment in the UK is now higher than at any point over the past 40 years and last year, 7,700 people in the UK went self-employed every week.

Whatever happens with the economy, technology and globalisation, there is still work to be done, problems to be solved, people to be helped. And you don’t need a job to do that.

Start thinking about what really matters to you and what you’d really like to do in your work. Take control of your career. Think like an entrepreneur, even while you’re in a job, and you’ll be in a stronger position. And consider the possibility that you could do work you really care about and get paid well for it without the need for a boss. Then you’ll be able to weather any storm.

*John Williams is a career coach, founder of Ideas Lab and best-selling author. His new book, Screw Work Break Free: How to Launch Your Own Money-Making Idea in 30 Days, is published today by Vermilion, price £12.99.

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