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How to future-proof your skills

Before merging mail-order shopping and the internet , Jeff Bezos worked as a Wall Street programmer. Ina Garten started out as a nuclear budget analyst for the White House prior to buying a Long Island food store and launching it into a television career. And beloved television artist Bob Ross learned to paint in the Air Force and retired from military service to follow his passion.

All of these famous stories have one thing in common: the individual wanted to make a career switch. Talented people have been reinventing themselves throughout history, and, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, work continues to evolve as professionals pivot or entirely change their careers in response to emerging technologies and the skills needed to operate new tech successfully. 

Everyone wants to remain relevant in the workforce. One of the best ways to stay prepared for inevitable changes is by future-proofing your professional skills. For some, this may involve taking consistent, incremental steps to upskill or reskill. For others, it may require a complete reinvention of their career. Either way, it all starts with a plan.

Develop a plan

Even if we can’t see the future, we can plan for it. The World Economic Forum (WEF) projects that 85 percent of the available jobs in 2030 have yet to be invented . How can we mitigate that uncertainty? By having a plan.

Not sure where to start? No problem. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start to think about your professional future:

  • Set short- and long-term goals: write them down in the order you hope to achieve them, and establish milestones to help you manage your learning and upskilling.

  • Be intentional and test your plan: write down your current skills and how long you realistically think they will be in demand, where you want to go with them, and new skills that can help you reach your goals.

  • Try to add or improve a few skills each year: start with the skills needed for your desired future roles and keep building.

  • Reevaluate your plan periodically: embrace the fact that even with a great plan, things can change.

“What’s your five-year plan?” isn’t just an interview question. It’s an action item for anyone who is serious about their career growth and trajectory. By taking the time to outline your approach, you can stay focused on learning new future-proof skills that can help you achieve your career goals.

Start with STEM

Whether you view technology as an exhilarating opportunity or a disruptive force, the fact is, it’s here to stay. The WEF estimates that automation could displace 85 million jobs by 2025. Yet 97 million new jobs may emerge from that displacement as humans and machines learn to share work. Meanwhile, a tech talent gap will contribute to millions of these jobs going unfilled.

The good news is that innovation generates more opportunity than it eliminates. Yesterday’s telephone operator is today’s app developer. While being digitally savvy has become a workplace requirement, a spectrum certainly exists. You might not need to master Python or JavaScript, but gaining some proficiency with code can help you demonstrate versatility, take on new roles, or even automate tasks in your current job. 

Innovation generates more opportunity than it eliminates.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are becoming top contributors to society’s innovative progress. Exploring STEM topics and skills can foster your problem-solving and creative abilities and help you stay competitive in a changing professional landscape.

Exploring artificial intelligence (AI)

The release of ChatGPT and GPT-4 technology has caused many professionals to reconsider the security of their current job. The artificial intelligence (AI) tool has proven to be useful in many business scenarios. Your ability to leverage its capabilities can help you future-proof your career.

Beyond GPT-4, organizations across agriculture, education, ecommerce, and other industries are embracing AI . By automating tasks, these various AI tools enable employees to use their time to pursue more creative and thoughtful activities. As a result, those professionals can achieve deeper engagement with their work and pursue more advanced skills that can continue to serve them in the future.

Additionally, developing and using AI tools requires human skill and intervention. Learning about artificial intelligence and similar topics, like machine learning and quantum computing, can give you greater insight into the best ways to leverage new technologies within your role and career.

Harness your strengths

Chasing a technical career path isn’t for everyone. Future-proofing your skills doesn’t necessitate enrolling in a coding boot camp. You likely already possess many of the skills employers value that don’t involve technology.

According to the World Economic Forum , “Technology Use” placed seventh in the ranking of the top 15 skills for 2025 included in their Future of Jobs Report 2020. Skills listed ahead of tech knowledge included analytical thinking, active learning, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and leadership.

As technology automates more tasks, humans will rely more on critical thinking and analysis in the workplace. Demonstrating these skills, along with resilience and stress tolerance, is another effective way to future-proof your marketability in the professional world.

Be adaptable

In a Deloitte article on the future of work , New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asserts that the human element is very much essential to progress, technological or otherwise. While it can be difficult to determine all the future-proof career options out there, one of the best ways to adapt to new advancements is by committing yourself to learning new skills and ways of thinking.

Continuing education opportunities come in a variety of formats and with their own time commitments. With edX, you can explore courses that make sense for your experience and goals. Choose from executive education programs for working professionals, accelerated technical boot camps, and a wide range of bachelor’s degree programs as well as more advanced master’s degree options. By taking the initiative to plan and manage your own lifelong learning, you can take an important step in future-proofing your skill set.

Keep looking ahead

Gaining future-proof skills is an ongoing process. New technologies and innovations require continual learning and adaptation. With the right plan, you can map out the educational steps you need to take to reach your next career goal. edX makes it easy for learners to receive support in identifying areas for improvement, selecting courses that can build relevant skills, and making a career transition with long-term growth potential.

Learn the skills you need to take the next step in your professional journey. Unlock more career resources by registering for edX today.

Last updated: September 2023