Many of the jobs that this year’s first-year accounting and medical students will be doing by the time they finish their studies don’t yet exist, while many conventional professional roles will have disappeared or changed beyond recognition. This means people and organisations alike need to embrace the importance of lifelong learning to remain relevant in a changing job market.
That is one of the key insights to emerge in the second episode of “Invisible Admin – Conversations About the Future of Work” – a series of podcasts from Sage. As technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data and the Internet of Things automate much of the work highly qualified human beings currently do, even professionals such as auditors and doctors need to ask themselves how their roles will change in the years to come.
Alison Jacobson, group principal digital strategist at Dimension Data, says that the rate of advancement in artificial intelligence means that computers will be able to do much of the work that people once needed years of study and a professional degree or certification to do. For example, sophisticated AI will be able to make a more accurate diagnosis from an X-ray than a radiologist or pick up discrepancies in a set of financial data faster than an auditor.

Will the job you are studying for exist when you graduate?
Many people in universities are currently preparing themselves to do jobs that may not exist in five to seven years once they are finally qualified. The implication is that young graduates and young professionals of all ages need to keep an open mind about the roles they will pursue in the future, says Heidi Duvenage, head of Sage Talent Solutions.
“Today it’s becoming increasingly rare for a graduate to do what they studied,” she says. “You must be open to change to remain relevant – you must be ready to adapt to new projects, processes and technologies throughout your career. Given the pace of change in the business world today, people need to embrace lifelong learning and organisations must become learning organisations.”
Jacobson says that as quickly as technology is reshaping or destroying old jobs, it is also creating new professions. The challenge for workers and organisations alike is to plan for the future when technology is in flux and the nature of the jobs of the future is unknowable. “We don’t know what the world of the future will look like,” says Jacobson. “So how can today’s graduates study for it?”

From specialist and technical to generalist and collaborative
Duvenage says that her advice to matric learners is three-fold: work for a year or two to understand the needs of the digital workplace before choosing a tertiary qualification, study subjects with a generalist application (such as law, accounting or engineering) and develop a wide range interests beyond your professional qualification.
“Today, a programmer doesn’t just need to code, but also understand how people interact with technology as well as be a team player who can collaborate well with others,” she says. “We’re hiring for attitude and aptitude rather than looking only at whether the person has a certification in the right programming language.”
According to Jacobson, the shift in the world of work means that professionals need to spend as much time honing so-called soft skills as they do on building technical and professional certifications and competencies. “Being able to learn is the most fundamental skill,” says Jacobson. “Social skills, emotional intelligence, problem solving and critical thinking are among the most important qualities for the workplace of the near-future.”
For example, even if doctors get more support from AI when diagnosing a patient in the future, there is no machine that substitute for a caring medical professional helping someone diagnosed with cancer to make the right treatment decisions. And even if a computer can quickly calculate an optimal package of insurance options for a customer, a broker who understands and empathises can play an important role in helping him or her to choose.