The global workplace is changing irrevocably. And that is altering the employment landscape, too. Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and nanotechnology are set to impact every facet of our life—from homes and cars to hospitals and factories, to entire cities. Accelerating advances in technology will transform how and where we work. According to the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) ‘Future of Jobs’ report, 65% of children entering primary school today will end up doing job types that don’t yet exist; and on average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the jobs today.
That’s a slightly alarming detail, especially if you’re currently in higher education or well into your career. So, what should we be doing to ensure that the skills of our current workforce are relevant in the future? According to the same report, two key job types are likely to become critically important. The first is data analysts, who’ll be in demand to help companies make sense of all the data generated by disruptive technology. The second is ‘specialised sales representatives’ across industries, who’ll be required to commercialise new innovations and reach new clients.
This technological revolution presents a huge opportunity to upskill our existing resources to their full potential. For decades, employee upskilling mostly meant organising periodic trainings. This is changing, as employers today need a future-fit workforce. Companies are now forming learning communities to explore new and upcoming technologies. They are tying up with online education providers to allow employees access courses through the company system. Across industries, companies are pushing their employees to join massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by top universities to upskill themselves.
Recruiters are also increasingly looking for well-rounded candidates—those having the necessary technical skills complimented with important soft skills, said a survey by LinkedIn that offered more than 5,000 online courses free for a week last year. However, just completing online courses is not enough. Specialist technical skills will need to be balanced with the soft skills of persuasion, emotional intelligence and the ability to teach others.
To achieve this, universities will need to work more closely with the industry to give students first-hand experience of the workplace; and it will be incumbent upon students themselves to ensure they have the necessary technical expertise combined with soft-skills to enable them to switch between industries and jobs more seamlessly. More importance needs to be placed on postgraduate degrees as well. A graduate programme helps equip students with knowledge, but a postgraduate degree helps students navigate disruptions by teaching them to function in team settings, being an effective communicator, and being able to lead when necessary.
Large economies like the US manage disruptive cycles in business and technology by sustained investments in research, innovation, and employee learning and development. As per industry reports, US companies on an average budget 8-10% of their total employee spend on training, with a total annual outlay of over $100 billion. In India, the corporate training market is disproportionately small, with estimated spends of only 1-2% of employee cost and a total outlay of less than $1 billion.
Indian companies will have to lead from the front, develop high-end expertise and set global benchmarks, through significant investments in long-term initiatives. For employees, there has to be stronger focus on high-end skills and specialised career paths. This unprecedented pace of change, brought about by technological advancements, means that one runs the risk of being left behind. The readiness to embrace the idea of combining employment and continuous training will prove a far more effective and rewarding strategy for the future.
The author is MD, Udacity India, the MOOC provider