I’ve seen the future of work. Many people are in denial about it. Most aren’t prepared to position themselves for career survival.

Over the past few years I’ve been involved in laying people off. Thousands of them.

Outplacement and career transition consultants like me are sometimes thought of as the Grim Reapers of the job world. We’re strangers amidst your colleagues who mysteriously appear in company elevators, lobbies and hallways, often first thing in the morning, giving an obvious clue that your work day is not going to unfold in typical fashion.

We arrive to help pick up the pieces of the shattered souls of employees who are notified that someone else has decided they’ll be departing from their company. In an instant, chosen employees are ambushed – often called to a meeting set up to look like regular business only to arrive to be blindsided by their manager and a human resources representative and offered a box to pack up their personal belongings.

It’s one of the most difficult experiences anyone will ever go through in their career.

Why most people don’t see it coming

When previous generations went to work companies held different values. They were keen to be part of the social safety net providing good salaries, benefits, pensions and more in return for a lifetime of hard work, dedication and good performance.

It’s that formula that most employees still assume is reliable today, and it clouds their vision of the bigger picture, which is exactly why so many layoffs come as a shocking surprise.

Ask any human resources professional what their company’s definition of employee retention is. You’ll get a variety of answers – some more ambiguous than others – but it’s clear that it no longer means 35 years of secure employment for those who work hard and stay loyal.

Your outstanding performance reviews, years of dedication, unique skills for your job, a recent promotion, etc., won’t save you if business planners decide you or your position is more of a risk than a benefit to your company’s bottom line or ability to adapt to new market conditions.

What does the future hold?

Constant, rapid change.

This evolution has been amplified in my struggling local economy as I watch businesses in reactive mode make swift changes to staffing and technology with survival on the line. Yes, they’re restructuring to stop the bleeding and stay alive, but they’re also innovating so they can be ready for rapid change to be the new normal.

Lean operations will continue to eliminate task-based jobs. Other roles will be consolidated. Technology will take over wherever possible, and some new jobs will arise in order to operate and maintain that technology.

It will take fewer people overall to run a company, and many of those people will need different skills than what is required today.

One needs to look no further than the tech companies who set the pace in business evolution to anticipate what might happen in other organizations as well.

What seems to be the only thing slowing the pace of change at the moment is that training isn’t happening fast enough. Many companies have abandoned internal training and mentorship efforts due to the required financial and time investments, and our colleges and universities are mostly too slow moving and bureaucratic to make change in time to help. That’s a topic for a whole other discussion.

What to do

Acknowledge that the work world is different. Understand that job security is in your control, but not via the traditional formula. That work-hard-and-be-loyal formula your parents built a retirement on will not work for you in the new environment.

Don’t get complacent in your career – expect the unexpected. Always know what you want to do next, even if it’s not in your plans to make a change.

Broaden your skill set whenever possible. Know that training is your own responsibility. Become nimble, adaptable and proactive.

Learn about the gig economy, AI, automation, opt-in work, contracting your services, consulting and marketing yourself. Anticipate which jobs are threatened, where needs will be, where problems might arise, and how you will be the hero.

Build a supportive network, including on social media sites like LinkedIn. Engage regularly.

Keep your resume up to date. Always. Put it in cloud storage so you can access it anywhere at any time.

Create a strong online presence and speak up. Record and share videos, ask to be a guest on podcasts, or create one yourself. Write articles about your area of expertise.

Become an entrepreneur, even if you plan to always work for someone else. The entrepreneurial skill set and spirit will serve you well.

Learn to earn trust and lead well.

Successful careers will be possible for those who choose to embrace change and take ownership of their own career management. Those who remain in denial, complain about the changing times, stay on the hamster wheel, and otherwise hold out for one of the ever-fewer traditional, full-time, stable jobs with a built-in safety net will eventually run out of options.

Don’t let that be you.

Need help?

Find valuable online courses on these topics at www.forgeaheadcourses.com

Need personalized support? An individual coaching program at www.forgeaheadcoaching.com

Rob Deptford is an online course instructor and career management coach based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He teaches strategies and tools to navigate the modern world of precarious work and enjoys coaching people through career advancement and transition. Rob is a skilled presenter and welcomes inquiries for keynote speaking.