by Louisa Wong: Executive Chairman Global Sage and LinkedIn Influencer

“The science is clear. The future is not.” So goes the title of a Leonardo DiCaprio documentary together with other world leaders.  While the documentary itself is about climate change, it describes many other major changes we see today, such as job-security.

I recently attended my Harvard Business School reunion, Class of 19-nevermind. It was sentimental, inspirational, and surprising. A survey of our class reveals:

• Nearly 80% have achieved their financial objectives;
• Nearly 90% have saved up enough to live a comfortable retirement;
• Still, enough is never enough. 63% would like to increase their wealth;
• Over 50% are willing to do what it takes to increase their wealth, perhaps by looking for the next job?  Who would hire us?  

That’s all quite predictable, you might say, as hindsight is always 20/20. I can’t say the same thing for this year’s graduating batch, though, when they have their own reunion many years from now. The new generation literally has their work cut out for them.

The questions they face are far more complex: How do you prepare for a job that doesn’t even exist today? If you don’t want your boss’ job, how do you get paid more by doing the same job? How do you take advantage of the “gig economy”? 

The very definition of “job security” is changing. Before, job-security was about the probability that an individual will be able to keep his or her job, often with the same company. Now, job-security is all about knowing you will always have a job even if your role suddenly disappears tomorrow, and that you are prepared to take on any new job (or create one yourself) even if it doesn’t yet exist today.

Should “job-security” now be more important than “job satisfaction”? In an age of uncertainty and extremes, is it better to “future-proof” yourself than to strive to be “the best you can be”?
In a study by the World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs, it is predicted that 5 million jobs will be lost before 2020 as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers.

The good news is that those same technological advances will also create 2.1 million new jobs – many of which don’t exist yet.

Add to this the following factors…
• Changing global demographics (Rise of Millenials);
• Disruptive social media;
• Changing organization structures (Fat in the Middle);
• Changing social contract between employers and employees (Emergence of the ‘Gig Economy’), among others.
 …and you have a perfect storm in the making, an environment where the best way – perhaps the only way – to predict and prepare for the future is to create it yourself. Some more food for thought and takeaways from the reunion:

• In this new environment, “learnability – the drive and ability to develop in-demand skills to be employable for the long-term – is the hot ticket to success for employers and individuals alike.” (forbes.com) Job Descriptions will become less relevant, and recruitment will be more skills-based.
• “Up to 65% of the jobs Generation Z will perform don’t even exist yet and up to 45% of the activities people are paid to perform today could be automated using current technology. This won’t necessarily mean fewer jobs, but it will mean new jobs requiring different skills.” (forbes.com)
• Millennials believe that success in this kind of environment “depends more on having the right skills than the right connections, and many are willing to spend their own time and money to get the right skills.” (forbes.com)
• Growth in routine jobs will continue to drop, while non-routine cognitive jobs have been increasing;
• Most jobs get terminated due to employees’ lack of soft skills, i.e. they do not know or cannot fit into the “rhythm” of the workplace;
• Growing importance of soft skills, including the ability to be empathetic and work with cross ranges of people;
• Problem-solving in a technology-rich environment is a highly important competency, and it requires both hard and soft skills;
• “Curiosity is a muscle prone to atrophy when exposed to the online world of instant information. To keep that skill sharp, we all need to take the time to find unfamiliar topics and dig beneath the surface.” (forbes.com)
• Companies prefer to invest in new technology to perform work rather than hire or retain employees, and to rely on outsourced vendors rather than hire additional employees;
• Internet expands the reach to more qualified job seekers and raise the bar on job requirements;
• You may not be interested in your boss’ job, but if you are interested in getting a pay raise, how do you get paid more by doing the same job elsewhere to gain “more life experience” rather than “more responsibility”?
• Rather than focusing on input (hours on the job) or output (results) or levels/rankings, focus on how to increase the value / impact you create for the business or for society.

Reunions, like the one I attended recently at HBS, help alumni keep the burning spirit alive and the magic bottles burning. We do not feel old, but we do feel how much time has passed, and at the same time we are excited about how much more there is to be done, to learn and unlearn. Developing leadership in the digital space and a world divided, with a myriad of problems unsolved and a future that is unclear, is fascinating.  With more than 100 years of history under its belt, even a rock-solid institution such as Harvard is energized by the challenge of finding its new place in the digital world.

We are proud products of the Harvard Case Study Method, and both the school and its alumni face the same challenge today: how to reinvent ourselves and stay relevant in this new world.  Yes, the world today is daunting even for a Harvard MBA.  Having a great sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves can certainly make the journey easier.

Lots of Love,
Louisa