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How to set up your skills for the future of work

How can you set up your skills for the future of work when, according to Dell Technologies, 85% of jobs that'll exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet? Even the jobs we do now are being slowly infiltrated by technologies and platforms that present a steep learning curve. From artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to blockchain, 5G and edge computing, business as usual demands an innovative mindset. 

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There’s no need to panic, however. Automation doesn’t signal the rise of the robots, nor does artificial intelligence imply that hands-on, human intelligence is any less valuable. But it’s inevitable that the way businesses work, and the nature of business-to-business communication, are entering uncharted territory. Here’s how to prepare and adapt your skill set for each stage of your career. 

Secondary school to graduate

A future landscape dominated by automation and smart communities might suggest that the current crop of graduate talent faces the bleakest prospects. However, there’s a lot more to look forward to than simply booting up and troubleshooting software. 

The demand for the ‘4 Cs’ — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity — will be consistent as long as architects are needed to conceive, test and optimise the systems that make a business run more efficiently. 

That starts with cognitive flexibility, advanced multi-tasking, and ‘T-shaped thinking’, skills that are by no means confined to students with a technical background. Indeed, these creative disciplines lean towards graduates with a liberal arts background. Studies in the US showed that students who received an integrated arts curriculum were 77% more likely to pass state assessment.

That said, tomorrow’s recruiters will be looking for specific technical skills too, whether domestically, nearshore or overseas. Whereas employers are currently competing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates, future employers will also require talent with social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) skills. 

These are the hard skills to master now:

  • Cloud computing: Programming, database management, application programming interface (API) development, development and operations (DevOps) and cloud security. 

  • Cybersecurity: Network and system administration, network security control, Internet of Things (IoT).

  • AI and ML: Programming (eg. Python, Java), data engineering.

  • Big Data analytics: diagnostic, descriptive, prescriptive and predictive tools. 

  • Blockchain: cryptography, programming, software development.

  • Video production: Video already accounts for more than 80% of internet traffic, so video editing and marketing will continue to be in demand.  

While schools can provide a basic information and communications technology background, along with an introduction to programming, many of the big platforms offer their own certification programmes, allowing the next generation of graduates to accumulate skills at their own pace. 

Mid-30s professional development

Even employees who entered the workforce as digital natives will be aware that technology moves at a furious pace. That leaves businesses with the option of either investing heavily in training as new platforms emerge, or outsourcing projects to markets that are already operating at an advanced level, such as software developers in eastern Europe and India. 

Budgets may be better spent by recruiting and refining talent with transferable “soft” skills, such as communication, continuous learning and critical thinking. These skills are expected to account for two thirds of jobs by 2030 as businesses look to broaden the scope of what automation can achieve. It’s why some experts believe that automation may create more jobs than it replaces. Machines can only accomplish the challenges they’re given. 

Rather than looking at the code to troubleshoot how each platform works, employees at this stage of their career will be more focused on the strategic vision that each type of software can deliver. That requires metacognition, or “thinking about thinking”, complex problem solving and the type of non-routine cognitive skills that artificial intelligence can’t deliver. 

Senior management 

Those entering the maturity of their professional career will most keenly feel the contrast between how business operates now and what was required when they first started. The goal is to avoid harking back to the latter. 

Managing young talent who possess skills in areas that may be completely unfamiliar requires emotional and social intelligence. The challenges aren't solely technical, either. With environmental, social and governance (ESG) benchmarks featuring more prominently, along with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the way an organisation functions internally is fundamentally changing. That calls for managers with skills in self-awareness, respect, and collaboration in particular. 

What skills are likely to disappear? 

A study by McKinsey suggested that 50% of current work activities are automatable using existing technology alone. While specific skills are unlikely to disappear, certain roles that draw heavily on a narrow skillset may be vulnerable to automation, such as: 

  • Travel agent: Price comparison tools and the all-seeing presence of social media have rendered travel agents obsolete. 

  • Taxi driver: Self-driving cars and app-based booking may push taxi drivers towards the fringes, i.e.. luxury chauffeurs. 

  • Store cashiers: Self-service checkouts and e-commerce could make the cashier role redundant.  

  • Fast food cooks: In another blow for the casual summer job seeker, robots are coming for the commercial kitchen, too. 

  • Paralegal and admin: Contract analysis and preparation are now digital and smart. 

Automation has also cleared a path through inventory management, financial admin, logistics and supply chain, product design, and customer service, reducing employee numbers (and human error) in the process. Given the greater efficiency and cost savings, businesses will continue to invest in the technology behind automated systems. 

Where can you learn the skills you need? 

It’s never been easier to obtain the hard skills needed to compete in the modern workplace. College and school are no longer the gatekeepers of success, while employers aren't alone in meeting the burden of training. 

From an introductory primer in a particular skill (e.g. affiliate marketing or web development) to a college-level accreditation, there's an abundance of online and correspondence courses to choose from. Many of them are even free. 

Try these excellent resources to up your skills for the future of work

  • Big tech schools: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other branded platforms all offer in-depth (and free) courses to help you master their services. These are certified e-learning modules that use easy-to-follow video tutorials. 

  • Udemy: Offers more than 200,000 courses in a wide range of categories. 

  • Coursera: Provides more than 5,000 professional certificates and degrees from prestigious universities worldwide. 

  • Udacity: Specialises in the in-demand coding and programming skills, and used by many of the world’s top companies for their executive leadership training and more.

Any skills gap is a business opportunity as well as a challenge. The degree to which your business can anticipate what’s next and adapt your employees to apply new skills to current processes will impact significantly on future success. As taxi drivers and travel agents can confirm, hoping that the market corrects itself isn't a viable strategy. And if international payments are something your business already deals with, master them with our free FX guide for business. 

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This information is correct as of August 2022. This information is not to be relied on in making a decision with regard to an investment. We strongly recommend that you obtain independent financial advice before making any form of investment or significant financial transaction. This article is purely for general information purposes. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

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