With the world changing as fast as it is, predicting the future is a handy skill that we don’t quite have down to a science. But it doesn’t stop people from trying! The World Economic Forum is looking ahead to the future of work, trying to predict the skills that will be most critical for employees, entrepreneurs, and companies. We know that the education system hasn’t caught up to the skills that people need, but there are teachers and schools that are doing their best to prepare their students for the 21st Century. So even though many children starting primary school right now will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet, the World Economic Forum is taking some educated guesses about what the world of work might look like when they get there by looking at where we’ve come from and where we are today.
The Industrial Revolutions:
You might be familiar with “The Industrial Revolution”, but many people aren’t aware that there has been more than one. In fact, we’re living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution right now! With each major industrial era comes significant change for the economy and the labour force, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is no exception. But let’s take a look at where we came from.
The First Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 to 1840, brought people into urban areas in massive numbers. Water and steam power lead to the mechanization of production and the rise of the factory and more children are living past the age of 5 than ever before. It’s also the first time in history that we see smog and air pollution, and child labour in factories.
The Second Industrial Revolution, from about 1890 to 1914, marked significant advances in technology like the telephone and the lightbulb. Mass production makes things more readily available, and the expansion of the railway and telegraph lines meant those things were spreading further, faster than ever before. Many of the inventions and effects of this era still exist today; it’s the first time we see people losing jobs to automation, and the first time we see the shipping of food prevent starvation from crop failure. Standards of living go up as goods become cheaper.
The Third Industrial Revolution (also called the Digital Revolution) saw the arrival of the internet and the personal computer. We shift from mechanical and analogue to digital, and automation increases. Information technology emerges as a growing field and people begin to have access to more information digitally. Products and systems still look a lot like their Second Industrial Revolution predecessors, but there is also technology emerging that is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution:
The Fourth Industrial Revolution emerges right out of the third, signifying the shift of technology becoming more embedded in society and the human body. It’s also different than any of the industrial revolutions before it in 3 key ways.
It’s faster. We’re seeing exponential change, rather than the linear change of the past.
The scope of change is bigger. Change is happening across the globe and across almost every industry.
It’s changing systems. Production, management, and governance are all changing, redefining the systems that we work within.
We’re living in the age artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and 3D Printing. Virtual assistants mean we have access to more information than a person in the First Industrial Revolution would have in their whole life, and all we have to do is yell at Alexa from our couch to get it. Social media and an ever-increasing number of people connected to the internet means that ideas and information are spreading more quickly, opening up more opportunities for collaboration and co-creation. But the Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t all good news; there are growing concerns about privacy, climate change, and the gap between the rich and the poor. And all of these changes are having a massive impact on the future of work.
The World Economic Forum Report
In 2016, the World Economic Forum released a report on the Future of Jobs. The detailed report examines trends across 9 broad industry sectors in 15 countries as a basis to create predictions about the changes coming to the future of work and the skills needed for people to stay competitive.
Trends affecting the future of work
While you might imagine that the future of work would look different across industries, respondents to the study actually identified some common trends that could be significant, no matter what kind of work you are doing.
Changing work environments and flexible working arrangements were identified as the top drivers of change across industries, and the impact of this is already being felt. You can see it in the rise of remote working, co-working spaces, and the increase in the contract and gig economy. More organizations are benefiting from having a small core team in a single location, and working with contractors and remote colleagues around the world. Mobile internet and cloud technology were seen as the major technological innovation driving change, and it’s easy to see how that fits in with the rise of flexible work environments. Being able to access your documents and colleagues wherever and whenever you might need them means that many people have the opportunity to be more mobile, even in jobs that used to require much more of a 9 to 5 office presence.
People are also moving through jobs and organizations more quickly. In a 2014 report, Workopolis found that 51% of Canadians had stayed in the same job for less than 2 years, and only 30% had held the same job for more than 4 years. People are also changing careers more often, with 69% having worked in more than one field, and 48% having changed fields 3 or more times. Smaller start-up teams often need people who have a diverse skill set to fill multiple roles as they scale up, and with the increased access to information and skill development, it’s possible for people to make the jump into different industries or fields more easily than before.
So what does this mean for employees?
The good news is that the types of skills that employees need apply across industries. Specific skills are obviously different for doctors, computer programmers, and construction workers, but there are skills that apply to just about everyone. For example, cognitive abilities like creativity, reasoning, and identifying problems are expected to be more important in the future. Complex problem solving, the analysis of systems, and strong decision-making and judgement will also be critical, no matter what your job is. This means that people in the workforce now can keep working on these skills that we’ve already identified as being important.
There are also positive predictions related to work-life balance, which is expected to improve across 8 of the 9 identified industries. The increased options for communication and information access means that we can be flexible and better balance our lives the way we would like to. Social skills, like collaboration and emotional intelligence, and process skills, like critical thinking and active listening, will also continue to be important to success in 2020.
What are companies doing to keep up?
As the world of work changes around them, companies are coming up with plans to continue performing and to get ahead of the trends where they can. Across the industries, human resource teams and C-Suite executives said the number one area of investment for them was investing in re-skilling. Retaining staff and providing them with the opportunity to build the new skills that they need to stay competitive can save companies money and time in recruiting new staff members. This also complements the focus on mobility and job rotation, which is a top priority across 8 of the 9 industry groups. Making space for people to change roles allows businesses ensure that valuable staff members are in a role that leverages their skills without compromising the success of the business.
What can you do next?
There are some steps that you can take right now, including:
Expand training functions through your HR department, and look for talent trends and skills gaps that your team can use.
Make more use of data analytics to improve your ability to forecast your talent needs in the future.
Leverage flexible work arrangements and online learning platforms to attract top talent and allow your team to have time to develop new skills.
Offer in person training sessions on in demand skills, like empathy!