The Future of Work and Skills
In 2015 Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, researchers from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, wrote a paper estimating that 47% of the US workforce was at risk of automation. The service economy, where most of the job increases over the past years have been, was now at risk. Their seminal paper went global, featured in headlines all over the world and prompting a collective exploration over what was in store for the future of work. It’s been such a big issue for us we even featured it as one of our Corset Laces – the biggest influences on our future.
Automation is still a significant issue, but it’s far from the only one. Since Frey and Osborne’s initial report there’s been a wealth of books, articles and further reports from academics, business leaders, economists, institutions like the OECD, World Economic Forum and consultancy companies like McKinsey exploring the key trends affecting work and how to ensure we keep abreast of change (check out our blog on our favourite one). There are no clear answers. History is strewn with unrealised predictions, so unsurprisingly many of these reports have reached disparate conclusions. None of us can know what the future of work will hold or what disruptions could challenge our assumptions.
No matter how compelling a technology, there are many reasons why it mightn’t be adopted. While it is easy to assume that the assumptions about inevitable automation are correct, the introduction of a robot tax, as Bill Gates and others have advised, could have dramatic consequences on cost-benefit analyses and technology diffusion. Similarly, there is a lot of hype that remote working will become the new post-Covid normal, yet Big Tech, the vanguard of the remote working movement, have been among the first to reassess this approach. We talk about inevitable technological obsolescence, yet the scale of expensive infrastructure upgrades might well result in continued demand for the services of those with the old-fashioned skills that will metaphorically keep the lights on, or the ATMs running.
If you’re thinking about how to respond to the relentless pace of change predicted to impact your work, it can feel appealing to look for an industry that’s ‘futureproof’. You could of course find that others have the same idea, which would result in oversupply issues. Conversely, in some of those industry sectors highlighted as ripe for employment decline, such as manufacturing, there could be lucrative supply/demand mismatches – for someone with the ‘right’ skills. (If you’re looking to find out more about what the future holds for your job in your particular sector, or country, you can take the OECD survey at OECD – The Future of Jobs (oecd-futureofjobs.org) – but please bear the caveats above in mind!)
In short, none of us know what our future of work will look like. However, each and every one of us has the ability, and indeed the responsibility, to understand and influence our personal future of skills. This is a necessity, not a luxury.
Understanding what your skills are and how best you can upgrade your skills with lifelong learning are critical for the future. These changes require a mindset of dynamic change and a shift from ‘job’ to skillset. This doesn’t mean a one-off pivot, but rather a commitment to adapt, reskill, collaborate in new ways and with different entities and reconfigure your skills as required. It is important not to be overwhelmed, but to build on your existing skills and strengths and find creative ways to stretch them or use them differently.
According to the World Economic Forum report, in 2018 65% of business leaders expected that their employees would need to acquire new skills, by 2020 it had risen to 94% of business leaders. A Gartner report on the post-Covid work trends urges organisations to: “Encourage employees to develop critical skills that potentially open up multiple opportunities for their career development, rather than preparing for a specific next role.” The same advice in different words comes from a 2019 Oxford Martin School report on work: “Transferable skills and vocational abilities are and still will be equally important”; “Retain the human spirit of curiosity and compassion while learning the digital skills that can make you competitive”; “Workers need a deep humanity specialization more than a deep technology one”; “My broad advice to young people is don’t be fungible” (substitutable) and – for us the highlight – “It is important to be future-oriented”.
We will be exploring this subject “The Future of Work and Skills” in greater depth over the coming weeks and months starting with this month’s Community Call on Thursday 20th May at 8pm where we’ll explore more of these trends and how we can develop these critical future skills. Our Community Calls are free monthly events where we explore subjects that you want to know more about. Bring your questions, bring your problems and this is a chance to ask us questions and draw on the collective wisdom of our community. They are available to anyone that signs up and you can do so through the link below. Looking forward to seeing you!
 Frey et al (2019) Technology at Work v4.0 – Navigating the… | Oxford Martin School