Technology changes everything. The way we live and the way we work. Technology is changing what we want for ourselves, how we interact with each other, and how business works. Technology is changing the face of business altogether. 

Look no further than the main streets in your city, or perhaps your Instagram feed, to see new businesses replacing old ones. However, while a growing economy is always good, it also impacts the types and quantities of available jobs, as well as the skills required for those jobs. 

This change driven by technology has a name: The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s happening fast. The pace of change usually happens across generations. For example, the jobs that your grandparents had might not have differed too much from the jobs your parents had. Likewise, your parents’ jobs might not be too different from what you studied in school or the career you’ve chosen. But in this new era, jobs won’t just change across generations, they will change in a matter of years. That’s right, the job you have now might not exist, or might require very different skills, in the very near future. 

Whose problem is this?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.37 million workers in the US who are projected to be displaced entirely out of their jobs in the next decade. There are millions more who will be required to undertake significant training to keep the jobs they have.

Conversations about the workforce of the future are happening across corporate America because companies already have a shortage of talent for their digital jobs. 60% of US-based companies state skills gaps prevent them from successfully implementing desired technologies, even though 89% of them want to adopt big data analytics by 2022, and more than 70% are considering IoT (Internet of Things), web and app-enabled markets, machine learning and cloud computing.(1)  

There are two big questions that companies are asking themselves: Does it make sense to skill up our existing workforce as our business changes and, what do we do with our employees whose jobs will go away? (2)

It turns out that within most industries, there is a sweet spot for jobs that will transition well to a digital future. Studies show that it makes financial sense for companies to provide training, or “reskilling” to 25% of their employees who are in jobs that will be disrupted. (3) That takes care of a lot of employees because it makes sense for companies to pay for the cost of re-training for individuals whose existing skills and experience will continue to provide value to their employers in the future. For example, within the Aerospace Industry, Brand Marketing and Public Relations/Communications Specialists have the kinds of skills and industry expertise to make them great candidates for reskilling opportunities aligned to jobs as Data Analysts. 

This is a positive transition given the growing demand for Data Analysts, which also offer a significantly higher average wage than Brand Marketing and Public Relations/Communications Specialists. (4)

There are, however, many jobs that may not exist in the future and, worse yet, may not transition well to future employment. Although 25% of all workers in disrupted jobs might look forward to company-provided reskilling, that leaves 75% of at-risk employees, who will not be offered reskilling opportunities. That leaves a lot of workers who will have to take the development of their skills into their own hands. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants in the Aviation, Tourism and Travel Industry, have very few viable reskilling pathways within either their companies or their industry. While there are several jobs that for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, would only require a modest amount of reskilling, such as Health Information Technicians, Legal Assistants, and Loan Counselors, workers pursuing those skills will have to look far outside their current companies to find jobs.

This presents a considerable challenge for a vast section of the global workforce, and particularly those who don’t believe they will be able to acquire new skills. As their jobs either change or go away, they may get stuck in the mindset that they won’t be able to keep up.  

Adding to this dilemma is the fundamental truth that the future is always uncertain. 

The world is changing, and although we know it will be far more “digital” than it is now, we don’t know precisely what that means. Employers don’t know for sure what skills they will need or what jobs they’ll be able to offer. Academic institutions aren’t sure which degrees, certifications, and programs will be in the highest demand. Employees can’t be guaranteed that the skills they invest in will reap adequate rewards.

The Path Forward

The twin side of every challenge is an opportunity. In the face of uncertainty, there is almost always a natural advantage for those who move forward anyway. 

We see this happening already across companies and education organizations that are beginning to offer a variety of novel opportunities to gain skills and achieve certifications. 

Online courses, many of which are free, coding boot camps, and mentorships are popping up everywhere. 

Often, these opportunities are geared toward people in unskilled or less-skilled jobs or those who are just entering, or re-entering, the workforce.  

We are effectively in a “trial and error” phase where there is a growing abundance of opportunities to acquire specific skills in a reasonably short period, at a reasonable cost. Many prestigious universities are placing bets on this form of education. One example is edX, a non-profit founded by MIT and Harvard, which offers exceptionally accessible online learning opportunities tailored to people with no existing skills, or just a basic level of knowledge and experience that can be expanded upon. Other examples include Udemy, which bills itself as the leading global marketplace for learning and instruction, and Coursera, which uses the tagline, “we envision a world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience”. General Assembly, in addition to its roster of online courses, works closely with large corporations to understand what skills will be needed in the future, and who will need them. From there, they create training programs like coding boot camps that are tailored to specific job types.

In short, while the Fourth Industrial Revolution is creating real urgency for many workers, there are, at the same time, a wide variety of pathways to bolster skills and prepare for new jobs in a more digital world.

Even amid all these educational opportunities, there remain a handful of challenges that people, especially those most at risk, need to address. Not everybody likes school. Not everybody learns in the same way. Not everybody has a mastery of the fundamentals taught in primary education that is required to learn new skills. How many workers will have to overcome significant obstacles to show up on the first day of class?

Underneath the layer of skills, and accompanying knowledge, that is needed for success is a foundation of character attributes that ought to be the priority for many who will need to make job transitions. The ability to work hard and apply discipline to what may be months of evening or weekend courses or mentorships will be critical for success. However, in the absence of strong internal motivation, that may be beyond reach for most. That is why the ability to generate genuine interest or curiosity about a new subject will be so important. Curiosity is a powerful state. 

It produces positive emotions, including the feeling of being energized and enthralled. Curiosity also has a positive effect on cognition, effectively turbo-charging the ability to focus and think. (5) That extra level of focus and thinking is key to acquiring both knowledge and skills.

Developing curiosity is itself a project. It must be authentic and, therefore, must start with a personal understanding of existing interests and desires and articulation of life goals and ideally a sense of individual purpose. Curiosity then becomes the fuel in the engine that drives us toward a better future. It encourages the search toward avenues for learning, whether they be traditional or non-traditional education paths, company training, boot camps, or mentorships.

For the many workers whose jobs or careers are bound to change, the lesson is not to wait for the future to get here. Now is the time to decide what matters, and what kind of personal investments will be necessary to achieve that. 

The road may be steep, and the future is uncertain. But the time for commitment and action is upon us, and the good news is that there are now, more than ever, an abundance of opportunities to learn how to survive and thrive in a digital future.

References:
(1-4) World Economic Forum, Towards a Reskilling Revolution, January 2019
(5) Mindshift, How the Power of Interest Drives Learning, November 2013