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Future of WorkDecember 17, 2019
More than one in three workers will likely need to reskill by 2030. Others could be displaced by automation. The solution is to adopt a lifelong approach to learning.
AI is already able to complete basic tasks, and its effectiveness will improve. Human workers, then, will need to develop advanced technological skills to shepherd that technology’s development. Demand for coding and programming, for example, will likely increase by 55 percent by 2030, Jacques Bughin, Susan Lund and Eric Hazan at McKinsey explain.
Technological skills won’t be the only focus points for hiring managers. Tomorrow’s candidates will need strong critical thinking and social skills.
In this post, we explore these skills in greater depth and consider how organizations can prepare the 2030 workforce amid an already acute talent shortage.
1. Tech Skills
For some time now, parents have urged their children to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects to ensure their future employability. And the economy has cried out for more skilled workers in these fields. In 2030, these skills are going to be even more important.
“By 2030, mathematics and science knowledge will have increased in importance by eight per cent,” Angus Knowles-Cutler and Harvey Lewis at Deloitte UK predict. “This is equivalent to adding approximately 4,500,000 new STEM-enabled professional occupations to the workforce, including teachers, scientists, engineers, IT and digital professionals, economists and statisticians.” And that number only reflects employer demand in the UK. Look for tens of millions of such opportunities to open up in other countries, too.
That said, Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, notes a shift away from STEM and a move toward SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud). This is inevitable as AI, machine learning and data science grow in importance. But the challenge is to prepare students and workers for problems and scenarios the world has not yet encountered.
“We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing to create a new world order that prioritizes humanity before profits and power,” Habib says.
2. Social and Emotional Skills
Technology will add efficiencies and remove mundane and repetitive tasks from the workforce, but this means people skills will matter much more. How employees work with colleagues could mean the difference between being hired or not, says the UK-based Centre for Social Justice.
The centre points to multiple studies that have highlighted the value of being suitably skilled emotionally and socially. For instance, Cardiff University’s Dr. Alan Felstead, cited in the centre’s report, notes that data from employment surveys over the past several decades have shown a marginal increase in high-level skills but a dramatic surge in demand for soft skills such as complex problem solving and social competencies.
Another report shows that self-management, personal agility and resilience to weather change will be vital, especially for those looking for roles with mid- to higher-skill employers.
Similar conclusions come from James Manyika et al in a 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report. The authors say machines will complete all of the predictable physical activities, plus data capture and processing. Humans will have more time to focus on people.
That’s where social and emotional skills like empathy come into play. Whether that’s colleagues collaborating on a project, senior personnel leading teams or employees managing clients, being able to see another’s perspective is a valuable skill. Harder to teach than tech skills, these softer skills are acquired by processes and habits, says Cameron Bishop, CEO and president of SkillPath.
Of course, training is necessary, but what matters is when the course ends. Employees should regularly self-assess their skillfulness and find opportunities to practice these skills not just at work but in all aspects of their lives. After all, being good with people is not just a workplace requirement.
Instead of the term “soft skills,” Joy Durling, CIO at Vivint Smart Home in Salt Lake City, says they should be thought of as emotional intelligence. “One skill I look for, especially in up-and-coming managers is, are they aware of the influence they have on customers?” Durling says. “If someone is in a meeting going through their pitch and doesn’t pick up on the non-verbal cues in the room but thinks it was a great pitch, that’s a problem.”
3. Higher Cognitive Skills
Another McKinsey report, Skill Shift Automation and the Future of the Workforce, predicts that by 2030 higher cognitive skills will increase in demand by 19 percent in the U.S. and by 14 percent in Europe. Creative professions will see the biggest surge for higher cognitive skills, the report says.
Other professions focused on higher cognition include:
- Writers, editors, paralegals — advanced literacy
- Financial analysts and accountants — quantitative and statistical skills
- Doctors and insurance writers — critical thinking and decision-making
- Purchasing agents and front-line supervisors
- Market research analysts and lawyers — complex information processing and interpretation
- PR specialists, music composers — creativity
Automation will also mean that some of the tasks in the professions above will be completed by machines. Already, AI has produced basic sports news reports, and banks are automating 70 percent of financial reporting tasks. The message is clear: Basic cognitive thinking will be replaced while higher cognition will increase in importance.
What Can Employers Do to Build This Future Workforce?
The McKinsey report highlights a few key actions that employers will likely consider to create their workforce of the future. These are intricately linked to automation.
The first step is to retrain and build the skills of current employees. Another option is to hire entry-level employees to train and shape them to fit the future demands. Training will be more complex, continuous, take longer and require greater investment than in the past. Equally, the in-demand soft skills such as empathy, people management and communication, along with the intrinsic skills of critical thinking or creativity, will require nurturing, not rote training.
Further, employees with specific skills might need to be moved around the organization so their talents land where they are most needed. This might require changing a person’s responsibilities or allocating specific employees to more important tasks.
Inter-Organizational Collaboration for Talent Acquisition
Trying to attract talent is a tough job, and it’s only going to get harder. Organizations will need to compete jointly for talent, pool their resources and find a collaborative solution, researchers Joseph B. Fuller, Judith K. Wallenstein, Manjari Raman and Alice de Chalendar write at Harvard Business Review.
The researchers envision a future in which companies in the same industry or region team up to identify the skills they have and the skills they need, before all contributing to building the right time of industry-wide training programs. This will also mean collaboration with entrepreneurs and technology developers, educational institutions, and policy-makers.
Some organizations are already pursuing this method. U.S. utilities companies established the Center for Energy Workforce Development in 2006, the researchers note. It’s staffed by former employees from member companies who identify in-demand skills and develop a talent pipeline to meet these needs.
Technology is changing the way we work, and it’s happening quickly. Employees need to commit to a lifetime of professional learning and development. Employers should find effective ways to deliver this training to them. Planning ahead by focusing on technological, emotional and social, and higher cognitive skills will prepare organizations for the future.
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