Future-Proof Job Skills: What Employees Need to Know

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Are you ready for it?

For people mid career, keeping job skills up to date has always been a high priority. But we’re now on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, making it imperative that people at any stage in their career review their skills to prepare for the future.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution was coined by economist Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum (WEF). It’s marked by the rise of cyber-physical systems that enable advanced computational applications for most industries, from marketing to military.

In other words, tech is taking over.

Robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, the 5G wireless network, and other technologies are providing us with machine capabilities never before possible. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, like the three that came before it, will dramatically alter the global job market.

New industries and roles will be created, while others will become antiquated. For most people, learning new skills and building on existing competencies will be necessary to stay competitive in an increasingly technological environment.

In this post, we’ll discuss research and statistics on emerging and declining roles, and what that might mean for your existing skill set. We’ll also dig into how people can reskill or upskill, regardless of their industry or income.

Declining Roles and Disrupted Industries

The WEF's Future of Jobs Report 2018 states that half of all surveyed companies expect that their workforce will be reduced due to automation by 2022. The WEF also revealed that at least 54 percent of employees will need to re-skill or up-skill to meet future demands.

Administrative and manufacturing roles are likely to see the steepest declines in hiring, according to both the WEF report and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, a number of industries will evolve substantially over the coming decades.

Media, education, energy, and health care and are all undergoing tech disruption, and will likely continue in this direction. People in these sectors will need to learn new skills to keep up with changes introduced by digital publishing, ed tech, sustainable energy, and biotechnology.

As people start to take on more complex roles, tedious jobs will be outsourced to bots.

In 2018, some 71 percent of task hours across industries were performed by humans; and 29 percent were carried out by machines. By 2022, the WEF predicts that 58 percent of task hours will be completed by humans and 42 percent by machines.

However, these statistics are tempered by employers’ optimism about the new roles that will be created as a result of the tech revolution.

A total of 38 percent of employers surveyed by the WEF expect that they’ll add new “productivity-enhancing” roles. Also, 25 percent said that new roles would stem from automation technologies.

Emerging Roles and Growing Sectors

Ultimately, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be defined by the jobs it creates and the capabilities it enables. The effects will be felt across industries. In particular, the BLS indicatess that math, technology, sustainable energy, and health care are likely to see the biggest growth over the coming decades.

According to the BLS report on the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. from 2016 to 2026, the following positions are expected to be in high demand:

  • Physician assistants (37% growth)
  • Nurse practitioners (35% growth)
  • Statisticians (34% growth)
  • Software and application developers (31% growth)
  • Mathematicians (30% growth)
  • Physical therapy professionals (~30% growth)
  • Genetic counselors (29% growth)
  • Operations research analysts (27% growth)

Of course, becoming a statistician doesn’t happen overnight. However, this is just a sampling of the roles expected to become increasingly available over the coming years. In fact, many in-demand spots may just require training or a graduate certificate.

Operations managers, accountants, auditors, marketing specialists, and management analysts are also expected to see higher demand between now and 2026, according to the BLS.

Plus, people in declining roles may find that many of their skills are already applicable to some of these burgeoning industries. Employees and employers alike will look to existing skill sets that are adjacent to those in demand.

For instance, clerks and administrative assistants can apply their organizational skills to a marketing or accounting role. And those who are up for a challenge can take courses toward a technology degree.

In the meantime, workers who proactively learn the skills of the future may find themselves steps ahead of their peers.

Filling the Skills Gap

Currently, we’re at an inflection point. The workforce is falling short of the demands of the job market due to rapid technological advancement. And retiring baby boomers are leaving a gap that recent graduates cannot fill.

The WEF revealed that at least 54 percent of employees will need to re-skill or up-skill to meet future demands.

This disparity could result in 2.4 million vacant job openings over the next 10 years, according the 2018 Skills Gap Study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.

To close the skills gap and fill new jobs, employees both young and old will need to gain competencies in some key areas.

The Skills Gap Study states that there are five main skills that will be essential to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

  • Technology and computer skills
  • Digital literacy and competency
  • Working knowledge of tech-enabled tools and techniques
  • Robot and automation programming
  • Critical thinking

It may come as no surprise that the majority of these skills involve technology. But one of these things is not like the others, and it’s a uniquely human ability (for now).

Critical thinking and other soft skills will continue to be valued by employers, particularly those with public-facing operations. Emotional intelligence and the ability to influence others will always be essential for leaders, while analytical and innovative thinking are highly important for both people on the frontline and those in the boardroom.

Machines will never remove the need for a human element in most industries. With that knowledge, workers can think about acquiring hard skills that will complement their natural abilities and existing skill sets.

Reskilling and Upskilling to Meet Demand

Employers plan to address the skills gap with a mix of strategies. They’ll be hiring new staff with the relevant competencies, as well as automating mundane, repetitive tasks. Some employers also plan to retrain existing staff, but 25 percent are undecided on that strategy.

Two-thirds of surveyed employers reported that they expect workers to adapt and learn new skills independently as their roles evolve.

Luckily, online learning and higher education are more accessible than ever. People have many different ways to educate themselves or seek instruction on a range of topics, irrespective of past education, location, age, or income.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the options available today:

  • Free: One way to start building new skills at no cost is with massive online open courses (MOOCs). If self-directed learning isn’t your thing, you might also consider an apprenticeship to learn a skill or trade.
  • Inexpensive: Online platforms like Lynda and Udemy offer courses similar to free MOOCs, but they have different pricing and credential structures. This post on Medium does a good job of breaking down the differences.
  • Intermediate: Trade schools give you hands-on training for construction, engineering, and technical work. Additionally, bootcamps and accelerated programs, such as General Assembly, can give you foundational knowledge in a short time.
  • Investment: Pursuing higher education comes at a cost, but one that’s well worth it.

Universities give you access to high-quality courses for gaining specialized knowledge and skills, academic and career advisors, and a network of peers. Plus, you get resources like libraries, databases, office hours, gyms, and alumni groups to help you stay connected post graduation.

Credentials from higher education institutions tend to carry the most weight with employers. A degree or graduate certificate from a reputable school exhibits that you have the talent and commitment to make it through a rigorous program.

But people should always choose the option that will get them the job they want without causing a serious financial or time burden.

The vast options for education today reflect the demand for more accessible, high-quality curriculum. This demand suggest that people are already preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They understand the ever-present need to evolve and improve.

We may not know what the future will bring, but maintaining a commitment to lifelong learning is one sure way to keep yourself poised for success.

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Illya Bjazevic (not verified) replied:

Amazing post! In your analysis about statisticians, mathematicians, and operation research analysts, are you thinking about PhD., master's, or bachelor's degree holders? Please answer the same question for other careers.

May 2, 20193:23pm

rebecca replied:

Great question, Illya. It probably depends on the company and the region. In cities and at big companies, there's going to be higher competition among applicants, making an advanced degree necessary for certain positions. Your best bet is to look at job postings in your area for positions that look ideal to you, and see what education level is required for those. Also, keep in mind that people who want to specialize or hone in on a particular skill have the option of earning a graduate certificate, which takes a little less than half the time of a master's degree.

May 9, 20191:34pm


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