Human Resources

The Future of Work is Skills; Are You Ready?

October 25, 2022
4 minutes

While it might not seem like it, the ideas and anxieties underpinning “the Future of Work” have been around for much longer than you think. In 1928, the New York Times was publishing headlines stating that machines were set to take the jobs held by humans, coinciding with John Maynard Keynes coining the term “technological unemployment” in the 1930s. In his 1995 book, The End of Work, economist Jeremy Rifkin wrote about an impending decline of jobs led by computers and robotics, and the inevitability of work becoming fully automated. Fast forward to 2022, the narrative around what the Future of Work will bring has never been louder as breakthroughs in AI, RPA and advanced robotics becoming daily occurrences. With Elon Musk unveiling things like Optimus at Tesla’s recent AI day and the internet sensation robots from Boston Dynamics developing even better dance moves, one can only help ask themselves, will I soon be obsolete?

What is the Future of Work Anyway?

The “Future of Work” refers to the ongoing conversation around how work, workers and the workplace are set to change as the world and technology evolves. While it’s been going on for a while, the topic continues to keep business and HR leaders up at night as they think through how to ensure their organizations are set up for success in the face of never-ending challenges. Over the past few years, the narrative surrounding the Future of Work has begun to shift towards a renewed centricity around skills given how much the threat and necessity of automation has become. With about half the activities people are paid to do globally being theoretically automatable and less than 5% of occupations containing activities that can be fully automated, human workers need to rethink the skills they need to win against this fight vs the machines.

How AI, Automation and Robotics are Changing Jobs

Historically, automation has been one of the biggest contributors to change in how work is done, who does what kind of work and where it is done. As technology advances, the half life of many professional skills is rapidly declining. The World Economic Forum has found that the average half-life of a skill these days is 6 years, and that’s projected to decrease to just 2.5 years by 2030. All of this means that in less than 10 years, the average person will need to learn new skills more than twice as often as they do today.

This decline in skills half life is due to many factors but overall, it has to do with either technology completely taking the jobs of humans or technology being implemented to work alongside humans to make them more productive. This means that not only do humans need to increasingly stay on top of the key trends and tools that are shaping their fields to remain relevant but also, they must continue sharpening the skills that differentiate them vs a machine. It’s game on and skills have never been more important than they are today.  In fact, 94% of business leaders expect their employees to pick up new skills on the job these days, which represents a sharp uptick from 65% in 2018.

Becoming Skills First

With technology set to rapidly change and work to become more automated, skill requirements are also changing faster than ever before. More companies are now kickstarting reskilling and upskilling efforts to ensure they are prepared to harness the productive power of these new technologies and set up their labor force for success. As these efforts kick into high gear, companies are realizing they are unprepared to create career paths for their people that are skills-based vs years of experience based or educational credentials based. In our conversations with business and HR leaders at TILR, we find that making this shift in thinking alone is foreign and challenging to most companies, given legacy talent management and hiring practices. Unfortunately, we’re in a time where the link between past experience and future success has the potential to become increasingly de-coupled due to changes in technology and how fast the world is moving. Therefore, emphasizing skills that can be applied across diverse scenarios could be the only way organizations and individuals can future proof themselves. Seeing the writing on the wall, employees are demanding more from their employers to help them develop the skills they need to excel in the labor force. They are leaving if these needs aren’t being met. As much as 60% of workers note they have left a previous job due to limited learning and growth opportunities. The Future of Work is more than ever, becoming about skills and to thrive, both employers and employees need to make the shift together. While 98% of organizations want to shift to a skills based approach, only 5% are actually doing anything about it.

Their futures depend on it.

Start with Skills Profiles

To start you’d want to start building skills preparing your organization for what’s coming 

By this point you may be wondering, “How do I make all this happen in practice? Here are some ideas to start:

Make your training budget strategic, not just a perk

In 2021, the average U.S company spent $1,071 per employee on training, $40 less per person than 2020.  Whether or not your training budget has gotten cut or remains intact, you can make it a strategic business driver vs a boiler plate employee perk. Instead of just offering your employees access to training dollars that they can use as they like, focus those training dollars towards specific skills you need your organization to develop that match the career aspirations of your people. For example, if you’ve determined that data science is a critical skill your organization needs in the future, provide the opportunity for anyone interested to learn data science through a combination of structured learning and organization specific projects, even if they don’t directly fall into their daily responsibilities. Doing this at scale may require a change in organizational or management philosophy but doing so will pay major dividends in the future, especially during difficult times where committed talent can make all the difference.

Evaluate all skills, not just “professional experience”

The notion that the skills someone learns as part of their formal job title being the only ones that matter is outdated. In the age of the side hustle, talented potential employees are building and monetizing the full spectrum of their skills base and getting better everyday. When it comes to your talent management and recruitment practices, how often do you look at what your employees or candidates have done outside their day job as proof of their full professional skill set? In a future of work that centred around skills, getting prepared will mean taking a broader look at what your current employees and candidates can and want to do outside of their 9-5.

Build an organizational skills inventory

Most HR and business leaders have an idea of the skills they may need in the future to be successful but don’t have a way to track and monitor progress to attaining them at an organizational level. The Future of Work will demand the creation of such an inventory as a strategic asset that could eventually act as a tool to help direct where organizations should allocate their capital to new initiatives. For example, before a company looks to invest in a new product, or a new strategy, referencing an organizational skills inventory can be critical information for determining whether going down a certain strategic path has a high likelihood of succeeding. In a world where making the right decisions is becoming harder than it’s ever been, having a real time, centralized view of skills that exist across your organization will supercharge your ability to make better decisions with confidence and if need be, mobilize talent across your organization to rally around critical initiatives when times get tough.

What are you doing to get prepared for the Future of Work?

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