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I am a non-IT employee, graduated in business studies, and work in a field related to customer relationship management. I have grown in this field during the past five years since completing my education, and there is a frightening trend in my company and across the industry:

People are being laid off because automation can do the jobs of hundreds with the help of programming. Even my own team was halved and I keep wondering what I can do to stay relevant in the longer run. I have the sincere impression that very soon my team won't exist anymore and also skills/jobs in my field will become redundant across other industries. It also seems that only high level functions will require employees but they will be people with solid IT qualifications.

So here is my question:

How to ensure I stay valuable to my company (or even my field/function as a whole), when similar positions are being automated? Especially considering that I don't have an IT education, and I cannot realistically afford going back to university.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Carson63000, zzzzz, Rhys, Jan Doggen, bytebuster Feb 12 '14 at 12:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Aside from experience in CRM, what other experience do you have? What education background do you have? What skills do you have? This is a large part missing to my mind as depending on what you've done there could be a variety of answers. – JB King Feb 4 '14 at 1:23
I'm not sure why people are voting to close this. This is a real issue in a lot of industries, and will only intensify as computers enter knowledge areas. Knowing how to manage this is an important idea for a lot of people. – Lego Stormtroopr Feb 4 '14 at 3:55
@Lego, questions on what job to look in to are not on topic as explained in the help center. I understand it's a common issue, but asking what field to look at next is not appropriate for The Workplace. If it was edited to explain how automation is threatening the job, and asking, "How can I ensure that I will still have value to the company when similar positions are being automated?" that may be on-topic. – jmac Feb 4 '14 at 6:55
Do things that cannot (easily) be automated? Seems kinda obvious... – Telastyn Feb 4 '14 at 14:24
I say, if a chain of computer operations can do your job better than you, it is time to find a new job. – Code Whisperer Feb 5 '14 at 15:58


As technology changes, the skills of people using it need to change.

Sure, technology makes jobs obsolete, but it also creates new jobs and it's unlikely that any time soon a computer can fully replace a human where brain, empathy and intuition are required.

I think to some extend that's the case with customer relationship management. Some parts of it can be done in an automated way (collecting feedback, maybe, or surveys), but other parts require real human interaction (like first level support, up-selling, etc.).

Bottom line:

Find the parts of your current job that require brain, empathy and/or intuition and emphasize those in your job, specialization and career moves.

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People never go out of style

Interpersonal skills never go out of style, but how they get used will change with technology and industry. In your current work, think about what parts of the job couldn't have been answered by a computer - it may only be 1 customer issue out 20, but that'll be the one they can't replace with a computer. What are the elements of that interaction that made it important that you were there for it? What other industries or work might need that?

Project management, sales, high end customer support all involve some degree of customer relationship skills in the sense that dealing with people who bring money to the table, and who don't see things exactly the way your company/department does can be a big key to success. The difference is that the people who successfully fill these roles may also supplement with some other skill set.

Keep ahead of the tools

A computer is really just a tool, even when it's replacing a human doing a job. Master the tool and you will have a job being the guy who knows the work & what the tool should be doing to do the work. That's generally the key to avoiding the layoff - there's also luck, politics and other factors, there's no absolute. Even in places where the tool really is used by someone with programming skills - your ability to clarify the problem the customer is trying to solve so that the computer can actually solve the problem is a real skill set that has value.

Along with the computer systems that are replacing workers, there will be other changes in the tools that humans use for communications - collaboration is changing at a really rapid pace. 4 years ago, it would have been unthinkable that 90% of my team would be FAR more productive working at home on a snowy day, and the interactions we have outside of the local area barely notice that we're snowed in. But that's exactly what happened today. It's not that we're computer nerds (we are) - the tools that facilitate this interaction are learnable by anyone from artists to engineers - even managers can do it. :)

Things I'd recommend: - Know conference systems - not just how to run a bridge but how to manage collaboration effectively with a group using one. - Know video conferencing from a room - Know how to do a web-based meeting with screen sharing - Know how to do a video session from a laptop using 2-3 different tools.

This isn't just the tools, this is taking your existing expertise at customer relationship management and translating it to new communication technology. That's where your value as a star will come - most people can limp through setting this stuff and sitting passively through a remote meeting. Many, many fewer can make use of these tools to successfully solve problems and keep relationships positive and thriving.

Use your business skills

Presumably you had some work in your education on markets. Products that need customer relationship managers are products where the customer relationship is a big factor in how a customer makes purchasing decisions. This very well may not be IT related products. I don't feel deeply passionate about much of my equipment - but I do feel passionate about my personal laptop and I go to a human to get help so that a real person can really explain to me the implications of the fixes I need. Probably explains why getting an appointment at the Genius Bar is almost impossible these days. The great folks there are smart, and talented, but they aren't necessarily programmers or people with advanced degrees in CS - their value is that they can facilitate my emotional connection to my computer and make it non-traumatic when I have a problem.

Look for areas where you can add this sort of value - it may not be a traditional role, it may not be the pay you're used to - the company has to be able to recoup the cost of you in the money it makes from customers who need your services.

Keep abreast of retraining options

Never say never about getting more education. IT training runs quite a range from certifications that take 10 weeks and cost a few thousand dollars to degree programs for 100s of 1000s. And plenty of people here would argue that many programmers earn their cred by informal hands on self-training.

When an industry really is dying in the US, it's not unusual to see the US government facilitate some level of training. It's not free necessarily, but you may get far more help than you know.

If you really don't want an IT degree, think about something more radical and look into the training requirements. That one comes down to personal preference, supporting skills and interests that would be too specific to address here - but plenty of people make really radical career changes and yet make fair points that they haven't changed the things they loved about work.

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If you have years of experience and did business studies, have you considered trying to get into management positions? Perhaps you have some knowledge in how to run businesses that may be useful to leverage in that form. This is simply based on what you studied and isn't considering what other interests or passions you have that may be useful here.

What about working in social media and getting into that space? This isn't about going back to school but rather learning in your own spare time to build a reputation within specific communities that may be a way to get into marketing jobs that likely aren't all going to be automated as companies will need people that understand social media and how to use it.

There is something to be said for what kinds of things do you like to do and how some companies could make use of these skills as chances are that grunt work will be automated, outsourced or offshored allowing for other work to still exist within first world countries. The question is how well are you prepared for job title changes and the creation of new kinds of work. If you don't want that, then I'd suggest trying to get into sales which may not evolve in quite the same way as other fields where using technology is likely going to increase. This doesn't mean you have to go to university but rather figure out for yourself what are your strengths that will add value for a company. A book suggestion around this would be to look at "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman that discusses how a graphic designer evolved their position into being a brand manager as they outsourced some of the menial work and left the creative stuff to themselves to do that added value for companies that I imagine will be a common story as the world keeps changing.

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Take stock of the skills you have in your current postion, There are likely to be some that are also applicable to some other type of position. Good with people, consider movign to a sales position. Good with analysis, then there are plenty of analytical positions from business analysts to financial analysts. Detail-oriented? Then look for another postion that involves careful checking of detail such as in teh health care compliance world. The trick is to look at what you already have has strong plusses and see how those might realte to other postions in your company or elsewhere. Check out books like What color is your Parachute for advice on how to do this sort of thing and postion yourself for a new career. Best to get started now and not wait until you are laid off.

Internally, you also need to make contacts in other departments and be as helpful to them as your current position allows. That way they might make a place for you in their departments.

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Many jobs require a college degree and some have specific areas of study and often allow for the substituting of experience. There are also technical colleges and certifications.

However, there are many areas of "IT" and people who do not think a degree is as important as having skills and the ability to attain skills (i.e. talent). Check if you don't believe me.

I changed to an IT career after being a public school teacher for 9 years. Even with a master's degree, I started at the bottom of the pay scale working in operations. It took more than 5 years to become a full-time programmer. I took a pay-cut when I started this new path (expected) and on one job change along the way.

Someone in my family for the three generations born in the USA worked for the exact same company. Those positions no longer existed when I came around.

No one can promise you a job no matter how good their intentions. Always be training, studying, updating your CV, funding your retirement account and applying for jobs. We're living longer in a faster changing world. I can't wait to see what my next career is.

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