The changing face of work: what new skills will be needed?

By the 22 March 2018

Picture: Woman framing the future.“Digital transformation into action”, “50% of existing jobs will no longer exist”, the business needs are changing… Some sectors are already catching the wave while others are missing it. In this context, how can L&D professionals look ahead and tackle the future?

In this post, we will explore forward-looking strategies addressing skills requirements.

What are the jobs of tomorrow in your business sector and your organization? Will the word “job” even exist?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report predicted that 5 million jobs would no longer exist by 2020 and be replaced by artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. Over the same time-frame, it also predicted that 2.1 million new jobs would be created, in more specialized areas such as computing, mathematics, architecture, and engineering.

The analysis summarized in the article “The jobs of the future – and two skills you need to get them” demonstrates that social skills will be crucial in every sector. For most jobs in growing sectors, a combination of interpersonal and mathematical skills will be beneficial. On the other hand, single-skillset jobs will decline.

Harnessing the potential of three skills groups

In September 2017, a report by the French Conseil d’Orientation pour l’Emploi (COE), Volume 2, also studied the impact of automation and digitization on skills. The report states that “three skills groups should all be harnessed in an economy which has been radically altered by the convergence of artificial intelligence and big data:

  • Specialist technological skills.
  • New technical skills, which are required in addition to more traditional skills in each job category. For example, a connected smart washing machine service engineer must be familiar with the technical environment in which the machine operates: customer service provider, operating system used, etc.
  • Enhanced cross-cutting skills for all employees which, according to the COE, should include:
    • Good general knowledge: an ability to understand a written text (literacy), to manipulate numbers (numeracy), and an awareness of the impact of their actions on a complex environment. So-called soft skills draw on a body of basic knowledge. In order to apply critical thinking, I need to have learned how to analyze and integrate a variety of information sources, and possess the tools (scientific, cultural, sociological, historical, etc.) to evaluate them.
    • Social skills: teamwork, social intelligence…
    • Situational skills: autonomy, learning-to-learn skills.

Picture: Plan Creative Class Library Student Teacher Ideas Concept

Digitization is not the only game-changer

Digitization is not the only trend which is having an impact on jobs. New types of workplace relationships, a search for meaning and collective intelligence, a global awareness of the fragile nature of environmental ecosystems, and support for collaborative working demonstrate how the world is changing. This has a huge impact on job categories and what they entail. Click here for an excellent infographic representing the major trends that are radically challenging traditional models.

The French Senate report “Quels emplois pour demain” (Jobs of the Future) (2014), identifies the main future growth areas relating to the expansion of the digital sector and to social change. This includes new jobs created by the development of digital, but also those connected to societal changes: a collaborative circular economy, the transformation of the city, social networks, new ways of selling, etc.

Thinking outside the box

When we analyze the changing face of jobs and skills, we need to think outside the familiar box of existing corporate roles.

In his 2014 report to the French Senate, “Quels emplois pour demain” (Jobs of the Future) (2014), Alain Fouché wrote (p.44):
“We can therefore identify three types of worker:

  • protectors who act as a shield against risk: they minimize economic, environmental and human risk. […]
  • optimizers, who spearhead performance: they strive for maximum profitability and tighter cost control by developing scorecards or performance indicators. […]
  • storytellers, who shape the future: “[they] confer, or rather reconfer, a sense of purpose on the company’s mission by engaging in dialogue with all stakeholders”.

Alain Fouché continues:

“The future of training, and therefore the future of work, is based on soft skills,” […] comprising “critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, know-how, a collaborative mindset, entrepreneurship and autonomy” in order to ensure “that individuals adapt to potentially very different roles and thus to the drivers of employability.”

The same trends appear in many foresight studies. One such example is the outstanding work carried out by the Fédération de la Plasturgie et des Composites (Plastics and Composites Federation): “Thinking outside the box means forcing oneself to reflect in new ways, about jobs which do not exist.”

A number of new roles therefore appear in their White Paper based on the research jointly carried out by stakeholders in many different areas, and these include (p.11):

  • the knowledge capitalizer who is “both ethnologist and educator”, and “ensures the circulation and transmission of knowledge”
  • the makestormer, who “stimulates innovation by providing professional input to brainstorming sessions and workshops”
  • the business networker, who “facilitates relationships” between in-house and external stakeholders relating to “shared new market development objectives”
  • the business maker, “an intrapreneur operating in a marketing/sales role”, “able to develop an idea by finding the best economic model and the best market segment in which to launch it […]

As you can see, the new environment and new employment outcomes mean new job titles. See also Dave Ulrich’s HR competency model.

Picture: Going Your Own Way on Blackboard

How to establish an employment intelligence strategy?

Any futures and foresight approach on the changing face of work should be collaborative and integrate different perspectives from a number of stakeholders.

However this does not preclude referring to existing research. Some research papers are outstanding and transferrable to other contexts for cross-cutting roles. See the research mentioned above carried out by the Fédération de la Plasturgie et des Composites (Plastics and Composites Federation), or Dave Ulrich.

Another option, of course, is to gather intelligence by following key blogs in the relevant field. See for example this article by Accenture predicting that 80% of traditional finance services will be delivered by cross-functional integrated teams in 2020.

We cannot predict exactly what the jobs of the future will be. But on the basis of emerging trends we can adapt training today to facilitate change. This will be the focus of the next post.

Other focus to read

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