Automation and the Future of Work

By Business & Finance
13 January 2020

Life-long learning is the key to career future-proofing in a changing world, writes Steven Roberts.

The world of work is likely to see significant change in the coming decade, driven by improvements in robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). This will have a significant impact on how workers, and the companies that employ them, negotiate the jobs landscape over the course of their careers. 

A study undertaken by Oxford University forecast that 47% of jobs would disappear over the next 25 years, whilst the McKinsey Global Institute advises that almost every occupation has the potential for at least partial automation. The idea of a single, life-long career is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

While developments such as AI hold potential for substantial gains in productivity and national GDP, it is not surprising that these messages are also causing some concern. According to a report by Deloitte, 40% of millennials believe automation threatens their jobs, while 44% believe there will be less demand for their skills. 

The importance of life-long learning

It is a challenging environment. Those currently in employment must try to predict how to future-proof their careers, whilst companies need to assess how best to develop their workforces to respond to these changes. One only has to look at some of the most popular current job titles – for example, social media managers, user experience designers, data scientists and SEO specialists – to realise that these jobs did not exist ten or fifteen years ago. 

One of the best ways to adapt is a commitment to continued, life-long education. The European Commission advises that skills continue to be the best guarantor of social mobility and opportunity. However, it is quick to point out that skills are not static. They need to be updated throughout our working lives and will be critical to the transitions modern workers will be required to undertake throughout their careers.

Soft and transferable skills

Soft and transferable skills will remain of prime importance in the new economy. The Government’s Future Jobs Ireland 2019 report advises that aptitudes in areas such as communication, organisational skills and self-motivation are key. These are not specifically related to a particular job, task or area of knowledge. As such, they can provide a vital link when changing career or industry sector. The report also highlights the importance of creativity. Emotional intelligence competencies are some of the most difficult to replicate with technology. 


Thankfully, there are steps businesses and professionals can take to help navigate this new ecosystem. For individuals, a first step is to undertake an analysis of their current skill sets. This should include both technical skills and soft skills, to assess current strengths and weaknesses. Part of this process will require an analysis of the likely future requirements of their current role. What skills does their industry predict will be most in demand in three to five years? Where gaps exist, set clear, measurable goals and commit to continued upskilling to address these. Indeed, such a commitment to lifelong learning will be essential to survive and thrive.

For companies, it is important that a commitment to enhancing transferable, soft skills is built into training and development programmes. This helps ensure a flexible and adaptable workforce where employees are well prepared to respond to changing industry demands. Those that start now will generate experience curve benefits over time.


Predicting the future is a thankless task. What is clear, however, is that some fundamental changes are upcoming with regard to the world of work. Businesses and individuals that recognise the need for strong transferable skills, complementing technical skill sets, will be best placed to prosper. The era of lifelong-jobs is passing, but those that commit to continuous learning and up-skilling will have the flexibility and confidence to adapt to the changes brought by increased automation and machine learning.

Steven Roberts, Head of Marketing, Griffith College.

About the author: Steven Roberts is head of marketing at Griffith College. A certified data protection officer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he writes on data protection, strategy and marketing. He is a member of IBEC’s digital economy policy committee and the ACOI’s data protection and information security working group.

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