Finally, it is worth examining how we — as hungry, young adults — can be better prepared for the disruptive, globalized, digital-first stream in which we must swim going forward.
The best way to think about this is to consider the characteristics of emerging markets/business models, and what skills, abilities and experiences are needed to be adaptable in a volatile environment that rewards creativity and flexibility.
If you want to see where the future is, it helps to look at some of the common elements that make up the most dynamic companies of the present. Uber and Airbnb are two great examples.
There are several notable things that make these two businesses so successful:
- They make better and more efficient use of resources that would otherwise lay dormant
- They create a market people didn’t realize could exist by leveraging technology
- They make better products at cheaper prices
- They find ways to compete in spite of rules and regulations meant to protect incumbent businesses from competition
- They disrupt stale business models and empower individuals
You will note that these items are interrelated. The broader macro forces at play here lie in the fact that technology can be used to get around monopolies or oligopolies – it helps enable competition that existing businesses could not have anticipated. If you can find such a business – that is, one that creates competition and a marketplace alternative that is “lighter” and more efficient – you may hit the lottery.
More broadly, technological advancement is disrupting whole industries. To that end, the best jobs for long-term growth may be based not only in the tech space, but in all the derivative jobs that might come from it (think: marketing and selling technology, operating it, servicing it, etc.).
Moreover, those fields worth potentially avoiding are ones in which your job could be automated, or where there are heavy capital investments involved, like purchasing heavy machinery or big factory spaces. The Internet has drastically lowered the costs of taking an idea from concept through execution, and that also means that digital assets are going to be more sought after than non-digital ones.
Related to this, many companies in the business world are pursuing “asset-lite” strategies. Why go asset-lite? The costs of hiring employees who have to operate heavy machinery or who perform a function that can be done by a computer are immense because of healthcare, liability, environmental, regulatory and compliance costs. And heavy start-up expenditures in equipment and land are only a further deterrent to building more labor- or real estate-oriented businesses in a service and digital economy.
Thinking these things through when looking for a job will put you ahead of the competition.
The Skills & Abilities That Can’t be Automated
Related to the point we just made, those jobs that can be automated are likely to be dying jobs. If you can figure out a way to make them die faster, you can capitalize on it.
To that end, the most sought after skills in today’s workplace are those that are hardest to find: Quantitative and analytical ones. So-called “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) skill sets are hugely valuable because they are rewarded in our increasingly digital world dependent upon data and technical. The fact that dozens of private start-up companies (some of which do not turn a profit today) are valued at over $1 billion, aka “Unicorns,” shows you how bullish things are for those with technical skills.
That said, there are plenty of qualitative skills that remain highly valued and can never be replicated by a computer. In fact, computers have made certain non-technical skills that much rarer. Being a creative and cogent thinker, a clear writer and a responsible, accountable hard-worker are skills that will always be valued. Developing these muscles will make you a marketable candidate across any industry.
Computers may help you better measure your performance and give you a better sense as to whether a strategy is worth pursuing, but they will never replace the creative human element. They are after all are only as good as the people who program them.
The Right Experiences in the Wrong Jobs
Where can you develop these aforementioned skills and abilities? The good thing is – if you keep your eyes and ears open – the answer lies in just about any job. And the Internet has provided an infinite amount of free resources at your fingertips. We live in a time of unparalleled access to the most value commodity of all, information, and we have it in our pocket all day.
Additionally, from the most menial tasks like mowing a lawn or painting a wall, to complex financial modeling or coding, every experience you pick up in the real world can have value if you make the most of it. Such efforts will reflect and help develop your tenacity, humility and energy, and yield some kind of outcome that you can quantify. Moreover, the people who you work with will be invaluable resources for learning, opening up new networks and hopefully championing your career.
A Last Word
None of this career talk is to say that it isn’t worth pursuing intellectual passions in college that may not directly tie to a hot industry coming out of school. But it is to say that you should be conscious of the skills, interests and experiences that you are building as you push towards graduation.
You should be thinking about your narrative – your personal story – and how it will show future employers that you will be a key contributor and team player worthy of investment.