You thought the homework was over. You finished school, learned professional skills and launched a career. But today, the half-life of a skill is less than five years, meaning you’ll need to continually learn new skills. Plus, organizations are rapidly turning to robotics, artificial intelligence, and automation to increase efficiency and cut costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic expedited these changes as organizations sought to protect workers from contact and struggled to stay afloat. The result? People fear for their jobs and seek skills training to stay relevant.

Acuity’s parent company, MindEdge, spells out the situation in its Get Ready for a Post-COVID Boom in Skills Training blog. “Taken together, these two clear trends—increasing automation and heightened job insecurity—will likely fuel a sharply increased demand for skills training. That’s because smart workers will want to ‘future-proof’ their careers by upskilling and re-skilling.”

So, if you’re ready to invest in skills training, where do you start? Two keys to future-proofing your career are to keep up with technology and learn soft skills that cannot be automated. Let’s take a look.

Sharpen Your Tech Skills

First, make sure you really understand the applications you use every day. If you’re fumbling along, trying to share your screen in Teams, alphabetize a list in Word, or add up a column in Excel, a quick Google search will solve those issues. If a deeper understanding of basic software is in order, such as creating macros in Excel or managing files in Google Drive, look to upskill with computer application training.

Beyond the basics, you need to stay current on the technologies driving your industry, whether that’s Amazon Web Services, Python, SAP, or Adobe Premiere Pro. How do you know what’s hot and what’s coming? Join industry associations, sign up for online newsletters, network with colleagues, look at job descriptions in your industry, and read, read and read. You’ll learn what’s in demand and find the next big thing through social media, career sites, traditional news reports, government publications, and more. Once you spot something promising, dive in, experiment, understand the promise, and then learn more with skills training.

Focus on Soft Skills

To further future-proof your career, identify skills in your industry that cannot be automated. Identifying and solving problems, providing personal service, managing people, making decisions, negotiating, creating presentations, and communicating with empathy are all skills that require human creativity and judgment. While these may seem more like art forms or personality characteristics, all these skills can be taught and fine-tuned.

For example, in manufacturing, machines may take over your work, but someone has to keep those machines running. Root Cause Analysis skills can help you discover the source of an ongoing breakdown and solve it. In data analysis, software may be able to crunch the numbers but a human will need to decide how best to share that data so it speaks to others. You can find scores of two- to three-hour courses for less than $100 to show you the way, and then ramp up your learning with expert-level courses and certifications in quality and process improvement such as Lean Six Sigma.

New Skills in Action

Let’s say you learned Microsoft Excel and started a job in financial analysis. Within a year, you recognized ways to do things better and watched YouTube videos to learn about pivot tables. Three years later, you spotted even more opportunities for improvement and attended a VBA programming workshop. You’re humming along, feeling like you’ve done everything to advance your skills and be the best you can be at your job.

Then the bottom falls out. During your fifth year in the job, despite all your efforts at streamlining processes and increasing efficiency, corporate IT pegs your job as something that can be fully automated.

Where do you go from here? Look for another job at a company more frozen in time? Or volunteer to leverage your knowledge of the data and the organization to manage the automation process and maintain it going forward? You decide to invest in yourself with a course in software application development to prepare for the future. This way, once you perfect the automation for your organization, you can maintain the software internally or take those skills elsewhere. Ultimately, the automation leads to more satisfying work with more potential.

These days, the homework may continue, but the rote learning of your school days are over. Skills training and certifications are designed to engage adults and teach real-world skills to put in practice for both short-term gains and long-term future-proofing of your career.

P.S. When you do earn skills, claim your digital badge to show off your new credentials.