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The standout, among many highlights, of each annual Australian Talent Conference is the closing keynote.

ATC co-founder, and one of the most respected people in the world of recruitment, Kevin Wheeler, traditionally closes the two conference days with his Fearless Forecast presentation in which he makes predictions about the way in which companies hire and get work done.

Kevin is the gold standard by which I judge other keynote speakers. He is passionate and knowledgeable about his subject. He only selects the information of greatest relevance for his audience. He speaks using simple language yet very powerfully and concisely; there’s never any padding in Kevin’s keynotes.

When Kevin finishes talking, you know you have been listening to a true expert. Having seen Kevin speak about ten times I continually marvel at how each keynote is full of original material; he never re-bakes a presentation.

There were a number of great points that Kevin made last Thursday afternoon but there’s just one small component that I want to elaborate on.

This year, Kevin’s broad theme was about the impact of AI (artificial intelligence or robotics) on the world of work and how many routine manual and low-level technical jobs are being undertaken by AI (think self-serve checkouts, automatic tellers and online bill payment).

Kevin then answered the obvious question: ‘What does that leave for humans to do that adds substantial value and is many decades away from being AI-ed out of existence?’

His answer:

  1. Emergent is networks of skills, relationships and ideas – not jobs.
  2. Move from thinking about jobs and careers to thinking about issues and problems.


On the surface this sounds quite esoteric.

However it immediately made sense to me due to various conversations my wife, Michelle and I have had about the specific work she had been doing as part of her job.

At the beginning of last year, I wrote Mothers, families, work and role sharing: what I have learned about Michelle’s ascension to the Head of HR with her employer, Hallmark Cards, in the face of her lack of HR experience and lack of HR qualifications, compared to other senor HR practitioners of a similar age and seniority level.

I am sure many, if not all, recruiters, had they been responsible for the recruitment of her current role, would have overlooked Michelle as a valid candidate. It would have been difficult for her resume to adequately communicate the impact that she was able to have in her many different roles across both her recruitment agency career and her corporate HR career.

What I hear now is Michelle, in a Head of HR job, undertaking a very small amount of technical HR work each day. Instead Michelle is leveraging her problem-solving skills, her coaching skills and her wide and deep relationships across the Hallmark business to help Hallmark employees, from the Managing Director down, think about, and solve the issues and problems that they confront each day.

These competencies are ones that very, very few undergraduate or post-graduate programs can legitimately claim to teach.

Most critically these competencies are ones that AI has little or no chance of replicating in the foreseeable future. It’s these very human skills that provide the greatest protection for any person seeking to avoid their job, or career, being AI-ed out of existence.

As Kevin said towards the end of his keynote:

“Credentials are less and less important – it’s about what you can do that matters most”.

This is reinforced by the research Google has undertaken within their own company to understand what underpins high performance. Their conclusion, as documented in the book Work Rules by the former Senior VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock:

We have found that learning ability is the leading predictor of success — No. 1 above intelligence and education.”

As I wrote on this blog over two and half years ago:

“The importance of self-directed and/or self-initiated learning via reading, coaching, mentoring, short courses etc has never been more important.

The core competency of the future (you could argue that future is already here) is the ability to learn, and unlearn just as quickly.”

What are you doing to protect your job, or career from being AI-ed out of existence?

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