Today’s climate demands continuous, dynamic learning. Technological advances are quickly displacing existing skillsets, forcing people to upskill to stay ahead of the curve. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that workforce automation will displace roughly 75 million jobs by 2022, creating 133 million brand new roles in return. Meanwhile, today’s newly emerging occupations will grow from 16% to 27% of the employee base of large firms globally. As core skills become outdated, the biggest predictor of success today is the ability to move with demand.
In 2018, McKinsey conducted a study into skill shifts driven by automation and AI between 2016 and 2030. The research showed that skill shifts would accelerate over time in Europe, with greater need for technological skills (increasing by 41%), social and emotional skills (up by 22%), entrepreneurship and initiative taking (rising by 32%) and higher cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making and complex information processing (growing by 14%). Meanwhile, the need for basic data-input and processing skills – those skills that can be most easily replicated by automation and AI – will fall in demand by 23% between 2016 and 2030.
These findings have been echoed by both the WEF and LinkedIn. LinkedIn differentiates between soft skills such as creativity, persuasion and collaboration and hard skills which are predominantly tech-focused, such as blockchain, cloud computing, analytical reasoning, AI and UX design – highlighting how both parts will shape a role in our future.
Meanwhile, the WEF’s fastest growing skills areas include active learning and technology design and programming, as well as “human” skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking and emotional intelligence. Seven of the WEF’s top 10 emerging roles for 2022 sit within tech, showing the increasing relevance of technology in business. Today, every department – from forecasting and business analysis to marketing – relies on technology to deliver.
All of this points to the fact that skills needs in business are changing radically and rapidly. Global average “skills stability” – the proportion of core skills required to perform a job that will remain the same – is predicted to be just 58% by 2022, meaning that 42% of workplace skills are set to completely change. In fact, 43% of executives believe that more than 60 percent of their workforce will require substantial reskilling for new roles over the next three years. Skills needs are changing.
Mind over matter
This pressure to constantly upskill means that we must rethink how, what and when we learn. The people that are best adapted to this market are the ones that can act quickly – curating information, creating new ideas from this information and communicating the ideas in a way that resonates.
This begins in education, where traditional ways of learning must be revised to prepare the next generation for the skill churn of the future. Schools must teach STEM earlier and more creatively, and higher education must promote original thinking over rote-learning and point-scoring. But in business, too, we must reassess how we measure potential. Technical knowledge and expertise today can be grossly outdated by tomorrow.
In the future, a good hire won’t be based on background, qualifications or experience, but on the candidate’s ability to read and respond to the environment. We must find new ways to test skills transferability and agility, and encourage hiring managers to step away from tick-box candidates and strict job specifications by challenging not just short-term needs, but also long-term.
Supporting life-long learning
The WEF predicts that on average, employees will need 101 days of retraining and upskilling in the period leading up to 2022. As a result, on-the-job training, cross-skilling and mentoring are all becoming part of the fabric of business. 81% of workers want on-the-job training from their employers to help them adapt to new roles. We see this appetite for upskilling in candidates too, who often cite new opportunities and challenges as a primary driver for moving on from their employer. But learning on this scale is a challenge, and traditional classroom-based training, which takes workers away from their tasks, offers limited practical experience, and is easily outdated, isn’t cutting it. Instead, technology is helping us make this step change to constant, dynamic learning.
For example, both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offer realistic simulations of real-life events, enabling individuals to train remotely and at any time. By overlaying training modules – such as how to assemble an engine – onto the real world, workers can learn on the job. This has the added benefit of minimising risk, as workers aren’t reliant on remembering courses from decades ago, and it can be easily updated in line with new developments. At a more basic level, centralised e-learning ecosystems offer a repository for workers to upskill themselves whenever, wherever, with mobile devices supporting informal learning.
But technology can do more than just support life-long learning at the individual level. It can also help businesses that are struggling to pinpoint emerging skills gaps. Artificial intelligence and predictive analytics can support workforce planning by analysing upcoming skills requirements and making recommendations for upskilling based on roles, job profiles and competency-based assessments across the workforce. Meanwhile, machine learning creates more personalised employee learning experiences to speed up the reskilling and upskilling process.
Lastly, life-long learning is also about collaboration and cross-pollination of emerging skillsets between employees. As soft human skills grow in equal importance to hard, tech skills, there is a lot we can learn from each other. We will cover this more in the chapter Democracy and Transparency.
Finding new pathways to top talent
As we upskill the tech workforce, it’s important not to leave anyone behind. UK tech employment has grown by 40% in the last two years, and there is already a serious aperture between supply and demand. While more companies are investing in their diversity now, this cannot fall by the wayside as we embrace dynamic learning. If we fail to upskill diverse groups now the gap may never recover.
For example, according to LinkedIn, roles that rely heavily on disruptive tech skills have the largest gender gaps. Considering that women already only make up 19% of the tech workforce, this could seriously deplete female representation in the future.
In another example, living in a high-income neighbourhood, going to a top school and working at a top company can lead to a 12x advantage in accessing opportunities. This means that the accelerating skills demand could exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities, with people from wealthier backgrounds more likely to travel up the value chain.
Companies must expand their talent pipelines now and commit to upskilling. LinkedIn suggests taking advantage of existing and adjacent talent to prevent gaps from intensifying in the future. Its research found that training and upskilling “near AI” talent could double the pipeline of AI talent in Europe. But we also need to re-evaluate our business processes and policies to remove barriers to entry for diverse candidates and improve inclusivity. Please contact Lorien if you need support with this.
Looking to the future
As the skills we value constantly change, and people are forced up the chain as ‘lower skills’ are replaced by automation, upskilling will become a key indicator of a business built for the future. Businesses need to invest in their ability to upskill their workforce rapidly and constantly, to identify emerging skillsets and respond quickly, and in boosting the pipeline to meet disruption head-on. Anything less will leave companies irrecoverably far behind.
For years, business leaders have warned of the implications of living in a VUCA climate. The words we use to describe the market – high velocity, unpredictable, turbulent, disruptive – all hint at the need for regular adaptation and agility. The coronavirus pandemic is a real-life example of VUCA in action. And it won’t be the last. Change, both small and monumental, is an inevitability we must all be braced for. And technology is the trigger point for this transformation, the architect of its innovation. It is a catalyst and an accelerant.
In our Tech Through Adversity series, we explore how the world of work is changing under the pressure of a VUCA climate – and the role tech has to play. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.