Will a Robot Take Your Job? How to Recession-Proof Your Career

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  • There's a lot of uncertainty about the economy right now, and some workers fear they could lose their jobs if a recession strikes.
  • More and more jobs have become automated in recent decades, making it important to develop soft skills that are harder for robots to emulate.
  • An emergency fund can give you a cushion against the unexpected, be it a job loss or a medical crisis.

Keep learning -- it'll help you stay ahead of the curve.

Today's workers could be forgiven for feeling under attack from every quarter. Inflation is pushing prices up and wages aren't covering the difference. Economists are increasingly concerned the U.S. could be about to enter a recession, which traditionally means job losses. As if that wasn't enough, artificial intelligence and robot bosses are already taking people's jobs.

Bots have entered the workplace in many guises, from performing customer service activities to tracking delivery drivers and managing our schedules. One study showed that between 1990 and 2007, 400,000 U.S. factory jobs were replaced by machines. Sadly, the pandemic only accelerated further automation.

How to protect your career

The good news is that there are ways you can prepare for a potential job loss. Whether it's guarding against a potential impending recession or making sure a robot doesn't replace you at work, learning new skills and building relationships can help. Here are four steps to take today:

1. Make a plan

The act of planning can often take the sting out of even the scariest of situations. If you know how you might deal with whatever life throws at you -- even if you're not sure exactly what that will be -- you'll be able to sleep easier at night. If you like your current job and employer, think about steps you can take to improve your standing at work. That might include volunteering for additional responsibilities, proactively solving problems, or learning new skills. There's no harm in making yourself indispensable.

If you want to move to greener pastures, understand what that might entail. If you want to switch to a whole new career path, consider what skills you might need to make it work and how you might get them. If you're not sure what you want to do, now's a good time to research your options. Start with an online career test, talk to former colleagues, maybe even see if consulting with a career coach might help.

2. Invest in both soft and hard skills

Soft skills are things like communication, emotional intelligence, negotiation, problem solving, and creativity. Time spent on improving the way you interact in the workplace is never wasted. If you think these are abilities you're born with rather than learn, you'd be surprised. These skills will help you progress in all kinds of different careers and they are some of the hardest things for computers to emulate. Plus, if an employer is choosing between two people with similar qualifications, they're likely to opt for the person who's easiest to get on with.

It's also good to look for ways to improve your hard skills. Embrace new technology,

listen to podcasts, read books, sign up to relevant industry newsletters, and look for online or physical courses. From learning how to use new computer software to keeping your professional qualifications up to date, continued learning may put you ahead in the job market.

3. Develop your network

We all interact with a huge number of people over the course of our careers, but some of us are better at maintaining those connections than others. Dust off your LinkedIn profile, check in with former colleagues, and see if there are other ways you can maintain your professional relationships. Due to the changes brought by the pandemic, you might feel a bit rusty when it comes to networking. But remind yourself that many people will be in the same boat. In fact, they may actually be grateful to you for reaching out.

One of the biggest networking mistakes I've seen people make is to push too hard for the things they want, rather than listening to what the other person needs. Even if you are scared that layoffs might be on the horizon, think about what you can do for people rather than the other way around. Nobody wants to be sold to or feel like they're being used.

4. Build your emergency fund

If the worst happens and you do lose your job, a well-stocked emergency fund will give you time to look for a new position. Try to put three to six months' worth of living expenses (or more) into a separate savings account. If you don't have any emergency savings or your fund is somewhat depleted, prioritize building it back up.

I'm not a fan of drastic budgeting or crash diets, but if you don't have emergency savings, a few months of aggressive belt tightening now might pay off. Every dollar you can save now while the job market is strong is a dollar that could help further down the line. If you've already pared back your budget as far as it will go, it might even be worth looking into a side hustle, even for a short amount of time. In addition to providing some much-needed extra cash, having another source of income could also help in the event that you do lose your job.

Bottom line

We live in uncertain times and a lot of people are worried about what might happen next. But even if a recession does strike, there are ways to protect your finances and your career. And although increased automation could well have a significant impact on the job market in the coming decades, there are still many contributions that can only be made by human beings. Keep learning, keep saving, keep connecting, and stay ahead of the curve.

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