How To Protect Your Job From Robots

Updated: August 22, 2010

One of the harsh trade-offs of technological progress is that many jobs are now being automated. Gone are the days when one could settle into a stable factory or manufacturing job and comfortably remain there until retirement. These days, if your job is repetitive or low-skilled, you risk being replaced by robots. As dehumanizing as this may sound, it's crucial to realize that not every job can or will be automated.

Furthermore, talented, hard-working employees can often take proactive steps to show their employer that automation is not the way to go.

Analyze Your Current Job

The first step to protecting your job from robots is to accept that not every job can be protected. It is a reality of 21st century employment that low-skill or repetitive work will often be automated. If your job can be done as effectively (and for less money) by a machine, there is little point trying to delay the inevitable. For this reason, it pays to assess your current job now, before there is any talk of automating it.

Let's say, for example, that you work behind the counter at a local deli. Is this job a candidate for automation? Absolutely - beyond the opposition of worker's unions, there is little to stop a machine from both taking deli orders and automatically slicing and packaging cold-cuts for customers. It is both repetitive and low-skill. If your current job is high in either of these characteristics, it may be best to consider getting a new one that is not.

Seek a Promotion

One way to do this is by seeking a promotion. To continue our example: while the day could soon come when deli workers are replaced by machines, it's not likely that the store's managers will be. Management is an active-minded job, requiring long-range planning and human judgement that machines are not currently equipped to perform.

If you have worked in your current capacity for a long time and proven to be a solid employee, getting a promotion may not be difficult. Simply request a meeting with your boss and explain that you are interested in opportunities for advancement. It may help your case to research in advance which senior positions the company has open and which skills/experience are necessary.

TechRepublic offers a list of 20 ways to be seen as worthy of a promotion.

Go Above & Beyond

Another way to protect your job from automation (even if it is low-skill or repetitive) is to go above and beyond at work. Obviously, the specifics of this will depend on your exact job, but some basic principles apply. In order to go above and beyond, you must abandon the mindset of doing the minimum job description and punching out. Rather, you should begin to think in terms of what you would do if you personally owned the company you worked for.

Ways to go above and beyond include:

  • Volunteering to work overtime
  • Suggesting improvements or cost-cutting strategies to your boss
  • Spearheading new projects or initiatives without being asked
  • Exceeding minimum quotas or targets
  • Beating deadlines

Going above and beyond to produce exemplary results proves that you are an asset to the company. This way, even if your current job gets automated, your employer will likely decide to keep you on staff in other capacity.

Build Relationships With Key Customers or Suppliers

Emphasizing the human value of your job can be immensely helpful in keeping automation at bay. None of your bosses will think twice about replacing you if you play no personal role in the company's success. On the other hand, if it is known around the office that you have trust and friendship with key customers or suppliers, the whole equation changes. Suddenly, you are no longer a mere cog in the machine, but the company's "ambassador" to those important people.

Replacing you would potentially jeopardize the company's standing with them and would therefore be a unwise decision to make. ArtOfManliness.com offers a primer on how to network effectively in the workplace, stressing the importance of thinking like an owner, understanding reciprocity and using the right tools.

Acquire New Skills

Recall that the jobs most likely to be automated are low-skill. While this may discourage those who currently work low-skill jobs, it also suggests a rather straightforward way to avoid being replaced: acquiring new skills. Let's say that you currently work as a checkout cashier at a major electronics chain. This job, too, is a prime candidate for automation. You may be aware that top grocery chains have already replaced some of their cashiers with automated checkout terminals, as the Washington Post discussed in 2006.

However, nothing stops you from becoming a commissioned salesperson in the very same electronics store. While it will require you to learn the skills of salesmanship (persuasion, overcoming objections, answering questions, closing the deal), the payoff will be a job that is much harder for machines to perform. Alternatively, you could opt to return to college and obtain a degree or certificate that will allow you to advance in your field.

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