Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automation – as well as less technologically-driven disruptions such as pandemics – mean the way our children and grandchildren are working will look very different to how we work today.
We don’t even have to look that far ahead to see change on a dramatic scale. It’s been predicted that 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 don’t yet exist!
Factors such as the widespread shift to remote working, the emergence of the gig economy, and employees' increasing expectations of flexibility in their relationship with their employers will also play their part. Adding seismic shifts such as the great resignation into the mix means companies are frantically searching for new strategies when it comes to hiring and retaining talent. Meanwhile, individuals are finding themselves increasingly confused about what is expected of them and what types of skills and experience will be valued in their own search for secure and meaningful careers.
One of the key pieces of advice in my new book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World, is to think hard about the types of jobs that will be available in the near future.
The Limitations of AI
I don’t believe that robots are going to make humans redundant. Machines will continue to displace humans, certainly, in repetitive and mundane roles that they can easily carry out. This isn’t really anything new – it’s been going on since, at least the first industrial revolution. But at the same time, many new roles will open up to us. These will mainly be in fields that involve the uniquely human skills that machines simply can’t - and possibly never will - possess. Skills such as creativity, human-to-human communication, emotional intelligence, and complex decision-making.
Consider the impact of machine learning, for example. Vastly complex neural networks and access to petabytes of real-time data mean computers are capable of carrying out increasingly complex tasks from categorizing images online to translating between languages to navigating a car to its destination.
What they still can’t do, though, is work out what needs to be done in the first place. Running a business, or managing a busy department, or dealing with complex human problems, involves taking a far higher-level and more strategic overview of the goals, options, and resources involved. Then, we use them to construct solutions that require imagination and creative thinking far beyond what even the most complex neural network is capable of. In other words, it’s not enough simply to be able to categorize images – we need to know which images need to be categorized. And we don’t just need to know how to navigate a car to a destination; we need to know where the destination should be and why the car needs to be there.
This means that some of the most in-demand skills of the workplace of the near future will revolve around tackling these high-level challenges. Leadership, human judgment, complex decision-making, collaboration and team-working, digital threat awareness, awareness of issues of ethics, culture, and diversity. Understanding how to harness these human-centric skills will put you in a position to be able to work effectively alongside whatever technology comes along to disrupt your industry without having to worry that it is going to replace you.
Identifying Skills Gaps
One of the most pressing problems any organization will have to overcome is learning how to recognize gaps in the skills of their human workforce and finding ways to plug them. Likewise, if you're looking to move onward and upwards in the workplace, you need to be able to spot the skills that companies and employers are on the lookout for.
Luckily, just as quickly as technology is providing machine-based solutions for many problems that only humans could previously solve, it’s also providing solutions in the field of training and upskilling.
Access to online education and training means that it's possible to develop valuable new skills across many different disciplines and fields of expertise. One of the most popular providers of these online courses is Coursera, which has spent a decade building links between industry and academia in order to pioneer new ways of delivering training.
I believe that in an evolving society, our attitude towards education needs to evolve, too. Frankly, it will no longer be the norm to spend the first twenty or so years of our life in education before moving into employment and working life, where we simply update our skills with on-the-job training on an ad-hoc basis as it's required. Instead, I believe education will become a lifelong endeavor, and online learning will play a big part in this.
I recently spoke with Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, who told me that one of its most notable successes came out of a partnership with Google. Google had developed a training program for IT support technicians – a role for which it had judged it was possible to train new hires without the need for any college education or prior industry experience in the field.
After achieving success with the program, it looked to Coursera to help outsource it to other organizations. This has since led to the foundation of Coursera's Career Academy, involving partnerships with, among others, IBM, Salesforce, and Meta, in skills ranging from digital marketing to software development.
Coursera now offers all of these courses as "white labeled" services, allowing other organizations to offer them to their own workforces. This has two benefits – firstly, it ensures the organization's workers are able to constantly update their skills to cope with the changing roles they fill. Secondly, it helps the organizations themselves to attract and retain talent by showing that they take career development and future skills seriously.
What Does This Mean For All Of Us?
Ultimately, although there’s certainly a great deal of uncertainty, I’m confident that the future of work offers plenty of reasons to be optimistic. While jobs are likely to be lost to machines, we should embrace the opportunity to spend more time tuning and developing skills and abilities that make us human. In itself, learning to improve ourselves to the point that we are better able to survive and thrive in industries dominated by super-smart robots and hyper-intelligent machines can be thought of as a challenge to our humanity. Spend some time thinking about what skills are needed – from hard tech skills like machine learning engineering to soft skills like AI ethics expertise – and how they are likely to be valuable in the not-so-distant future. It should become apparent that there’s going to be plenty that needs to be done – more than enough to keep us busy and gainfully employed. None of us knows what job we will be doing in ten years’ time, but putting in the groundwork now, with an eye on the future and the trends that are driving technology and society, will give us the best chance of ensuring it will be something meaningful and rewarding.
My latest book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World, is available now.
You can also click here to see my recent webinar, where I am joined by Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda to discuss many of the themes touched on in this article in more detail.