The #1 Way to Secure Your Job During COVID-19

If you’re scared that your role might be eliminated in the post-pandemic economy, or concerned about the accelerating speed of innovation, or just worried that AI, machine learning, or business process automation might take your job, here are some things you can do to make yourself indispensable.

A Little Recent History

Before the pandemic, fear of missing out (FOMO) was motivating tech-savvy CEOs to get super-serious about data. Machine learning systems were already on a path to become “table stakes” for every company – department by department, system by system, function by function. Since the beginning of the pandemic, this trend has been accelerated in every sector across every industry – including yours.

Human/Machine Partnerships

Industrial-scale automation is coming, but it’s not here yet. In the interim, some work will be fully automated, and some will still require human expertise, due to limits of evolving technology, or because of cost/benefit, or simply because humans still need to be involved.

To survive and prosper as AI-assisted automation takes over the business world, you will need to become the best human/machine partner in your peer group. This means you must be better than people who are competing for your job at understanding and using “technology” or whatever other name you wish to use to describe systems that can perform cognitive non-repetitive work as well as (or better than) unaided humans can. Here are some concrete steps you can take.

1. Invent the Future

If you analyze numbers in Excel, craft a narrative about them, and move them around spreadsheets, your employable days are numbered – unless you invent the future.

Imagine you are tasked with automating your job, every keystroke, every phone call, every in-person meeting – everything. Which areas will most likely be automated? It may only be small parts of the process. It may help to list everything you do and all your responsibilities and write down how they will be done when machines rule the world.

You will be surprised at how many things you believe cannot be automated that are already automated. You will also be surprised at how many things you believe are easily automatable that are not even close to being automated. This personal understanding of the capabilities and limitations of AI and machine learning is critical. How do you gain such understanding?

2. Start Reading

Read everything you can about data, data science, machine learning, AI, and automation. Everything you need to know is available online. There are about a zillion YouTube videos on the subject. Find companies that are working on automating cognitive tasks associated with your business. Look for partners, vendors, consultants, well-read bloggers – anyone who can help you understand what you need to do. Immerse yourself in the subject. It is your new full-time job.

3. Be “That Person”

This is the hardest step. Dig deep. Become “that person” in your department who “knows this stuff.” Figure out where to use data for better decision-making and what tools to use to automate certain tasks, and become expert in them. Your current lack of knowledge is unimportant. You can learn, so learn!

4. Propose a Test Project

After you have figured out which vendors, partners, processes, tools, consultants, and colleagues need to be combined to accomplish your test project, build a short, uncomplicated presentation (if needed) to articulate what you will try to accomplish and what benchmarks you will use to measure success. You will be surprised at how quickly management says yes. If management does not say yes, you are working in a company that is not going to exist much longer, so look for a job where you get permission to use your new knowledge.

If you really can’t get your boss to approve a practical automation project, or if you work for yourself, consider starting an AI/ML project as part of your side hustle. (If you don’t have a side hustle, stop reading and start one!)

5. Show Your Results

Build another presentation that describes the problem you identified and solved with data science, data-scientific research, machine learning, and the automation or the automated systems you built, conscripted, used, partnered with, purchased, etc. Make it super-easy to understand and obvious. Automation increases productivity by saving time, increasing accuracy, and reducing headcount (yes, you are going to demonstrate how fewer people can do more work).

6. Revel in Your Success and Repeat

With your initial success will come a “hallway handle,” something that gets thrown around by two coworkers passing in the hall, like, “Hey, what are you working on?” “Joe’s data project.” Embrace it, own it, love it. It’s your pathway to gainful employment for the next decade and beyond.

This Will Work

One of the biggest problems facing white-collar workers today is a misunderstanding of human/machine partnerships. It is probably true that AI/ML and related technologies will create more jobs than they eliminate. This truth will be cold comfort if you are not retrained and your job is eliminated. It is also probably true that AI/ML and other automation technologies will not take every job. They don’t have to. They only have to take yours.

The way to prosper in an ever-more-automated world is to create your competitive advantage by becoming the best possible human/machine partner. If you let the machines do what they do best, combine that with what you do best, and, most importantly, demonstrate the value of you and your machine skills to management, you will not only survive the attack of the machines, you will be stronger for it.

Want help?

We offer free, weekly interactive workshops designed to help your business and your career.

Digital Skills Workshop

Every Wednesday from 3pm to 4pm ET on Zoom. Hosted by Shelly Palmer

The digital skills required to create and market direct-to-consumer (DTC) digital products and services have become table stakes for corporate executives and solo practitioners alike.

In this series of interactive workshops, Shelly Palmer will take you through the process (both strategy and hands-on how-to tactics) of creating, building, and marketing digital products.

Topics include the following:

  • Building buyer personas
  • Crafting media-buying targets
  • ROI and ROAS calculations
  • Product development
  • Marketing funnels and landing pages
  • Media and metrics
  • Media optimization
  • Tools, tips & techniques

This is a free weekly workshop open to all.



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About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit


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