Much of what I see and read about the future of work seems to be doom and gloom. Will AI make the assistant role a thing of the past? As a response to this, I started trying to educate myself on what employers will be looking for in the future, irrespective of the job title and that is how I first discovered the Future of Jobs Report in 2016 and tracked this information ever since.
This report is compiled at the World Economic Forum in conjunction with the top CEOs, HR Leaders and consulting groups globally.
The list is overwhelmingly positive for top level assistants because we already use and display these skills on a regular basis in our normal daily activities. So, I put it to you that we will be ideal employees in the future (if this list is what leaders are recruiting and retaining talent on)
Our focus should be the ROI the company receives on our salaries not what we are called (as I am sure that this will change and evolve too). The goal is to create a profession beyond the operational administration tasks (easily handled by Alexa) and to start adding strategic value. I feel that if we focus on and most importantly develop the skills listed below, our careers will evolve naturally and become infinitely more future-proof, tasks more interesting, meaningful and diverse. We will be called upon to create the next iteration of the profession and I think we are up to the challenge.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be a challenging time for the global labour market. The Mckinsey Group research found that, conservative estimates of job losses due to AI and robotics are expected to be in the range of 800 million by 2030, so this is a reality that we need to prepare for if we want to not only survive but ultimately thrive.
Competing with AI, on the traditional knowledge-based framework is a poor strategy. Machines will always beat us on that score, but they have not yet learnt to be creative, solve problems or have empathy. We need to do the “human work” and this will be the major differentiator and competitive edge for us in the future world of work.
So, let’s look at the list and how we are already using these skills and think about how we can develop and enhance our own proficiency.
1.Analytical Thinking and Innovation
As assistants we use this to create new processes, when solving problems or streamlining a task. We also need to apply both analytical thinking and innovation when we are organizing things as simple as a storeroom cupboard or as complex as a board meeting or large event. Some of the other functions that require this skill set are, troubleshooting, problem solving, budgeting and reporting. As well as preparing complex or sensitive communication and reporting or reviewing information.
2.Active Learning and Learning Strategies
The modern EA is expected to learn on the job. Often early adopters of new software and expected to train others. Learning by doing, is an essential part of the assistant’s skill set. We need to start moving away from perfectionism, which is a wonderful asset in the role itself but holds us back from innovating and acquiring a growth mindset, which will be very valuable in the future. We need to focus on excellence and be willing to take the risk of failing.
Assistants often work on unique tasks and deal with unforeseen circumstances which requires them to apply common sense, experience and to learn at speed and at a pace seldom expected of other employees.
We will need to be focused on continuous personal development (which no longer has to cost money but does require an investment of time). The access to information is no longer the issue, but how we use the information.
Formal and informal training will no longer be a luxury but a survival strategy not only for us but also our companies in the rapidly changing world.
3.Creativity, originality and initiative
Creativity cannot be taught, but it is like a muscle. The more you explore and expand your horizons (and comfort zones), the easier it gets. Assistants are exposed to many different people, diverse information streams and interesting interactions, this greatly increases your ability to be creative or take another view.
I am always in awe of what an assistant can do with a colour printer, a laminator and a pair of scissors. I cannot wait to see what these creative and resourceful employees will make when they start having access to 3D printers.
To improve and encourage creativity we need to see things from a unique perspective and join the dots that others don’t see. This is when we start to add real value in the business sense.
As assistants we do need to volunteer more and speak up when we have good suggestions. In the future of work where structures will be flatter and less hierarchical, we will definitely be able to do so more freely. And I for one am excited about the rise of the millennial managers within our ranks who will value and encourage this.
4.Technology design and programming
Technology is shaping the future of work. I would advise that we all start to deal with how we feel about technology and change. For most of us learning a programming language or basic robotics now, many not be practical but for children who are preparing to join the workforce it will be essential.
I encourage you to take part in the onboarding of AI and digital assistants in your environment, that way you can influence and shape implementation as opposed to having it forced onto you. Ride the wave, don’t be crushed by it.
5.Critical Thinking and Analysis
Top level assistants use critical thinking and analysis well and regularly. They review information, compare trends and alternatives or make suggestions. I would like to urge you to grow your business acumen at every opportunity and to take advantage of the information that you have access to. Don’t just take minutes…use the meeting to learn more about your team and the business landscape. Don’t just check and beautify the presentation, read it! You are getting management training for free, you have a front row seat, now use it!!
6.Complex Problem Solving
This is the area where top assistants truly excel. They are master problem solvers and use this ability daily. They deal with issues of varying complexity and are incredibly resourceful. They also have large networks that they can harness to solve problems. They exhibit common sense, can do the relevant research and know how to reach the experts.
7.Leadership and Social Influence
Assistants have been using influence not positional power to ensure performance from their teams for years. They work cross functionally on a regular basis and have no positional power to fall back on, so they are already adept at leadership and social influence. A great assistant can affect the morale and engagement of the team and assist management to retain talent for longer periods (which will become increasingly important in the future)
Assistants understand that relationships and trust are valuable and that in the end, people do business with people that they like. So this ability supports not only your team but your client base too.
Avery UK undertook a study of assistants vs general employees. When they compared IQ between the groups, they measured much the same but when they measure EQ the assistants did considerably better. Not a surprise to anyone who has ever been in the role but a major advantage to us as a group in the future (Avery Survey Global Results )
Emotional intelligence will be a differentiator and will aid us in the building of rapport, understanding others, negotiating and being able to diffuse difficult situations to name but a few advantages. Sadly EQ is also often lacking in organisations which will make assistants more valuable in good corporate cultures.
9.Reasoning, Problems-solving and Ideation
Assistants are often called upon to work with unfamiliar tasks. They apply their imagination, work in terms of ‘what if’ and alternatives when faced with problems or challenges. They were also on the frontline of the cost cutting initiatives which meant that their resourcefulness had to scale in the wake of dwindling resources. They are often the ones who not only identify repetitive problems but also find and implement innovative solutions.
10.Systems analysis and evaluation
The EA always knows “who is who in the zoo”. They understand who is responsible for what? Who influences decisions and where the points of failure are, be it in a process or a person who consistently lets down the side. They understand and evaluate the parts so that they can build in the required redundancies to avoid failure.
They understand the flow of communication both upwards and downwards and can change the dialogue and perceptions on the shop floor.
So, my major take aways from the list are that thinking, being creative and stepping up will be required if we want to be successful in the future. We will need to be able to collaborate, reject our comfort zones in favour of challenge and embrace the coming changes in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Being fearful or ignoring the changing landscape will not serve us.
Having this information should inform our development plans and how we rate our performance. And yes, this list will change and continue to change just like the world around us but at least it gives us a sneak peak into the future and some guidance on how to prepare for it.
Assistants need to become the CEOs of their own ‘companies’ and start selling time and talent to their employers. Take your brand more seriously than your job title. Create the new activities required when the operational/transactional tasks are taken away. Pay attention and innovate yourself into a valued role within your team. The best strategy to future-proof our profession is to keep learning and to add value.
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