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How to thrive when a robot comes for your job

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Robots don’t vote, but they sure played a role in the latest presidential election.

Automation has made millions of jobs obsolete, and frustrated displaced workers turned out to be the swing vote that swept Donald Trump to the American presidency. Trump got the diagnosis wrong, by blaming China and Mexico instead of automation, but he won because more than any other candidate, he recognized the disruption ordinary families endure these days.

Even though Trump got elected, the pressure on middle-class families is almost certain to intensify rather than recede.  New America, a think tank, is in the midst of a big study on the future or work, and the outlook is not comforting. “We’ve been looking at what people think is coming, and in all of those scenarios, we are seeing the decline of good-paying jobs that support middle-class lives,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of New America, tells Yahoo Finance in the video above. “What we need to do now is prepare for what might come.”

Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former top State Department official in the Obama administration, highlights some new government policies that might help ordinary workers cope with ongoing technological change. Making company benefits portable would make it easier for people to change jobs and pursue new interests, because they’d be able to take their health insurance and retirement plan with them, instead of staying in one job just for the benefits. Education needs to be improved, as everybody knows. Safety-net programs ought to be adjusted to encourage more work and mobility.

But there are things ordinary workers can do for themselves—and there’s no need to wait till your job gets automated away. “You should be developing your side hustle,” Slaughter says. “You should be thinking about a portfolio of things you could do now, things that give you multiple options. Honing your creativity. Teaching. Advising.”

Something known as the “care economy” is likely to need human workers for the foreseeable future—and a lot of them. That includes not just healthcare but elder care, child care, coaches, teachers, advisers and anybody who helps care for others. Technology will help—“elder care robots” are already on the way—but these are also the kinds of fields where a human touch is needed and often preferred over machines.

Finally, Slaughter recommends a minimum set of digital skills everybody ought to have—but don’t worry, you don’t have to be a coder. “Everybody has to be comfortable with apps,” she says. “You’ve got to be comfortable using your phone as a source of knowledge.” Millennials may snicker at that, but the time will come when they, too, will need to learn things that didn’t exist when they were growing up.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.