In the 1990s, IBM’s Deep Blue beat grandmaster Gary Kasparov in chess; today IBM’s Watson supercomputer is beating contestants on Jeopardy. A decade ago, workers worried about jobs being outsourced overseas; today companies such as ODesk and LiveOps can assemble teams “in the cloud” to do sales, customer support, and many other tasks. Five years ago, it would have taken years for NASA to tag millions of photographs taken by its telescope, but with the power of its collaborative platforms, the task can be accomplished in a few months with the help of thousands of human volunteers.
Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future.
A new report from The Institute for the Future (IFTF) analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years. It does not consider what will be the jobs of the future. Many studies have tried to predict specific job categories and labor requirements.
Consistently over the years, however, it has been shown that such predictions are difficult and many of the past predictions have been proven wrong. Rather than focusing on future jobs, this report looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings.
Six Drivers of Change
Most foresight exercises begin with a consideration of drivers—big disruptive shifts that are likely to reshape the future landscape. Although each driver in itself is important when thinking about the future, it is a confluence of several drivers working together that produces true disruptions. IFTF chose six drivers that emerged from its research as the most important and relevant to future work skills.
- Extreme longevity: Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning
- Rise of smart machines and systems: Workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks
- Computational world: Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system
- New media ecology: New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text
- Superstructured organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation
- Globally connected world: Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations
Future Work Skills 2020
What do these six disruptive forces mean for the workers of the next decade? IFTF identifies ten skills that it believes will be critical for success in the workforce:
The report defines and explains these skills and sets them in the context of the world being shaped by the drivers of change.
To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.
The results of this research have implications for individuals, educational institutions, business, and government.
Educational institutions at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, are largely the products of technology infrastructure and social circumstances of the past. The landscape has changed and educational institutions should consider how to adapt quickly in response. Some directions of change might include:
- Placing additional emphasis on developing skills such as critical thinking, insight, and analysis capabilities
- Integrating new-media literacy into education programs
- Including experiential learning that gives prominence to soft skills—such as the ability to collaborate, work in groups, read social cues, and respond adaptively
- Broadening the learning constituency beyond teens and young adults through to adulthood
- Integrating interdisciplinary training that allows students to develop skills and knowledge in a range of subjects
Businesses must also be alert to the changing environment and adapt their workforce planning and development strategies to ensure alignment with future skill requirements. Strategic human resource professionals might reconsider traditional methods for identifying critical skills, as well as selecting and developing talent. Considering the disruptions likely to reshape the future will enhance businesses’ ability to ensure organizational talent has and continuously renews the skills necessary for the sustainability of business goals. A workforce strategy for sustaining business goals should be one of the most critical outcomes of human resource professionals and should involve collaborating with universities to address lifelong learning and skill requirements.
Governmental policymakers will need to respond to the changing landscape by taking a leadership role and making education a national priority. If education is not prioritized, we risk compromising our ability to prepare our people for a healthy and sustainable future. For Americans to be prepared and for our businesses to be competitive, policy makers should consider the full range of skills citizens will require, as well as the importance of lifelong learning and constant skill renewal.