• Parag Diwan

Future of Jobs - Skills of the Future

Fourth Industrial Revolution is slowly but surely gaining momentum. We, the ‘Homo sapiens’ will soon be entering into a new kind of partnership with machines, some term it as the emergence of cyber-physical-systems. Certainly, it should make life a little easier, better, and even more productive. But for some of us, that might not happen as our jobs and our livelihoods may vanish as a result of collateral damage. A raging storm of business model disruption in most industries is gathering more force which may eventually lead to a metamorphosis of job markets. As evidenced by rapid developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, nanotechnology, additive manufacturing, and biotechnology, the winds of change are indeed blowing hard. Earlier disjointed, these cutting-edge technologies are all converging to create an altogether different world.

A world where the patterns of consumption, production, and employment are going to be markedly different. Most jobs are experiencing a fundamental transformation. While some jobs are at the cusp of redundancy and others are growing rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change that will require different skill sets to continue in them. In most of the mundane and repetitive areas, a new generation of automated systems will replace humans. The smart machines will also become our collaborators in more complex areas, thereby augmenting our own skills and abilities. Smart machines will also establish new expectations and standards of performance.

Over the next decade, as it is predicted, new smart machines will permeate into offices, factories, and homes and become ubiquitous the same way electricity has become in our lives today. As these machines replace humans in some tasks and augment them in others, their long term impact may be less obvious. The question remains is what would human ingenuity now bring about?

Framework for Understanding the Future of Work

Source: Deloitte Review, Issue 21, July 2017, Navigating the Future of Work

The Forces of Change impacting the Future of Jobs

As described earlier, the set of forces that are majorly impacting the future of jobs can be classified into three groups:

Forces of Changes in Technological Spectrum

Advances in computing power and Big Data: The power of crunching huge amounts of data using immense computing power which is available today develops the ability to discern patterns that can both supplement and supplant human beings.

Internet of Things: The use of remote sensors, communications, and processing power in industrial equipment and everyday objects will give rise to what is being called ‘cyber-physical systems’ where the powers of the machine and human beings intertwine to create a force multiplier.

Advances in Robotics: One of the manifestations is that robots with enhanced senses, dexterity, and intelligence can be more useful than human workers in manufacturing, as well as in a growing number of service jobs, such as cleaning and maintenance. Further, with the development of autonomous vehicles, the whole set of jobs related to the motor industry will get transformed.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence: The developments in AI, including machine learning, and natural user interfaces are making it possible to develop ‘chatbots’ that can potentially replace knowledge workers.

Advances in 3D Printing: A range of technological advances in additive manufacturing technology is transforming the whole manufacturing industry. This leads to rapid prototyping and on-demand customized manufacturing in low volumes.

Forces of Change in Demographics

Longevity and aging societies: The composition of the global workforce is changed by shifts in demographics. Largely, in developed countries, people are living longer than ever. As a result, the population is becoming both older and younger, with individual nations becoming more diverse. This implies that jobs of the future would have to cater to both ends of the population spectrum.

Young demographics in emerging markets: The younger generations are largely concentrated in developing economies. As many parts of the developing world are experiencing rapid population growth and face a very different demographic challenge than advanced economies. Many emerging countries continue to scale up the skills sets and provide high-quality education. This creates a tectonic shift in the global distribution of talent.

Forces of Change in Work environments and Flexible Working arrangements

Due to the global shift in the talent pool, both institutions and prospective workers now have access to global markets. Remote working, co-working spaces, and web-conferencing are a few innovative value additions enabled by networks and platforms opening up new possibilities for the way each interacts with the other. This opens up opportunities for creative work done by smaller organizations with linkages to external consultants and freelance workers spread across geographies.

Skills Needed for Future Jobs

Sense-Making: With the advances in technology, a lot of routine and mundane manufacturing and service jobs could be taken over by smart machines. However, there would be higher-order jobs that require thinking skills, which could not be translated into a machine code. Such skills are generally called ‘sense-making skills’. These are the abilities that humans develop to create unique insights, that are critical to decision-making tasks.

Social Intelligence: Social intelligence is the ability that humans have that enables them to quickly understand the emotions of people around them and based on that moderate the tonality of speech and body language. This is important for humans to create relationships of trust which are important for collaborative working. The skill that is difficult to build in robots and other smart machines is the intuitive ability to feel the emotions of others around. This will continue to give human workers an advantage over machines. Therefore, social intelligence is something that should be assiduously cultivated.

Novel and Adaptive Thinking: Jobs of the future would require the ability to be able to adapt as per the situation demands. This ability means say in the context of discovering a new drug, the creation of a new synthesis route from the existing biochemical reagents. This is what is termed as novel and adaptive thinking. This ability again creates the employability of humans in higher-order jobs.

Cross-Cultural Competency: Tomorrows’ organizations would not only operate in a globally connected fashion but also have diversity as their core competency. This implies that people must have skills to not only be able to operate in different geographies, but also with people of diverse backgrounds — age, skills, disciplines, and working styles. This is what it means to have cross-cultural competencies.

Computational Thinking: With the advent of Big Data and Analytics, the next generation of human workers must develop computational thinking ability. This ability implies how to make sense of the huge amount of data and its analysis to bring out models that guide the decision-making process.

New-Media Literacy: Our social life is dominated by user-generated content that is visually rich. Therefore, the ability to fluently understand the rich media content such as videos, animations would be a key skill per se. The ability to use and understand immersive and visually stimulating presentation of information would be a key aspect.

Trans-disciplinary: Many of the complex problems that the world faces today are difficult to be resolved by a single discipline. The convergence of multi-disciplines, for example, in biomedical device development requires expertise from nanotechnology, molecular biology, chemistry, and other physical sciences. Therefore, a critical skill for the future would require expertise in handling multiple disciplines and interpreting their cross-linkages.

Design Thinking: Workers of the future would need to be proficient in developing a design mindset. This ability recognizes the fact that different tasks need to be resolved by designing an appropriate set of techniques that is conducive to the environment they operate.

Cognitive Load Management: As the information load that today’s multiple formats and devices bring to mind, the ability to discriminate and filter information that is useful for the task at hand, is the skill that the workers of the future must develop. Varieties of tools and techniques are available to deal with information onslaught; the skill that is required to be developed is the ability to use these tools and techniques effectively.

Virtual Collaboration: In the future, the work environment would largely become virtual and the connective technologies make them so much easier. This will require developing a new set of competencies, whereby members of virtual teams should become adept at improving the productivity and well being of the group.

Prescriptions for Academic Institutions

With the changing times, the educational institutions at all levels - primary, secondary, and tertiary should also transform and give up the hang-ups of the past. Since the landscape in which the future graduates of these institutions will find themselves, they will have to make a directional change. Some of these areas could be:

  1. The curricula must embed in the learning outcomes the abilities such as critical thinking, design mindset, and analytics capabilities. The curriculum should also integrate the use of new media to ingrain this skill among the learners.

  2. The experiential learning component must give importance to soft skills such as the ability to collaborate, work in teams, comprehension of social cues, and adaptive responsiveness.

  3. Life-long learning should be the new credo and institutions must reach out to working adults to re-skill them for emerging job requirements.

  4. Integration of the multidisciplinary training that enables learners to develop skills and knowledge in a wide range of subjects by embedding liberal studies in technical and business education.

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John Hagel, Jeff Schwartz, Josh Berson, “Navigating the future of work”, Deloitte Review, Issue 21, July 2017

Global Challenge Insight Report, “The Future of Jobs”, World Economic Forum, January 2016

Anna Davies, Devin Fidler, Marina Gorbis, “Future Work Skills 2020”, Institute for the Future, University of Phoenix Research Institute, 2011

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