How vulnerable are you to becoming obsolete at work

Published: 07 Jul 2016

Computerisation and automation are changing the face of the workplace. The main concern expressed by employees in a 27-nation survey we conducted recently in collaboration with SAP and Oxford Economics was that their jobs would change and that they wouldn’t have the skills to propel them up the career ladder. Only half said they felt that the attributes they possessed would be sufficient in three years’ time. 

It is easy to see why people might stop pressing forward and learning. If you never feel inspired to take on new challenges and acquire skills, you will simply level off in your field. The arrival of new knowledge and technology in our profession naturally erodes our existing skills. The decay slope is obviously steeper in some industries than others. But, over time, it’s possible for someone with years of experience in almost any field to become less expert than a newcomer if they don’t update their knowledge. Tenure doesn’t guarantee expertise or high performance – quite the opposite, in fact. 
So how do you stay relevant in the workplace? Our solution for avoiding obsolescence? Learn how to future-proof yourself. 

We have discovered a set of practices that successful people use to stretch themselves professionally and, in so doing, stay ahead of the obsolescence curve. In addition, companies that provide learning opportunities increase their employees’ skills and satisfaction. 

Here are two approaches you can adopt that will help you to develop your skills and remain relevant at work.

– Learn on the fly in any situation and be a “professional informal learner” by cultivating your curiosity. One of the disadvantages of the incredible online search capabilities available to us is that we can be deluded into believing that we don’t need to retain facts, because we can so easily look them up. But it is deep background knowledge that helps us to ask good questions. 
The increased efficiency of search engines also means that the precision in our questions has weakened. Learning is more effective with curiosity. This helps us to avoid complacency and disengagement. In a sense, once we allow ourselves to be curious, both work and life become more interesting. 

– Build a diverse network, connecting to the five people who can help you to make your future happen. The expert learners we have spoken to rely heavily on others to keep them up to date. While you may have hundreds of people in your network, who are the few individuals who can really help you to keep learning, especially when it comes to your work? Every time you 
associate with these people, you feel that you have raised your game and are thinking a little differently. Since you cannot maintain close connections with everyone in your network, focus on spending time with the five who can most help you to thrive.

It’s clear that, in order to future-proof yourself for tomorrow’s workplace and put yourself in control of the career of your dreams, you must learn how to “learn a living”.

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