In 2021, not many people will remember talking to switchboard operators. In the early days of telecommunications, operators would sit in front of manual telephone switchboards, with wired jacks connecting each line. As a caller, you would verbally request the operator to manually connect you to the desired receiver.
Joan Howard, Switchboard Operator, 1949. Image via Museums Victoria.
The last switchboard operator hung up her hat in 1983, and now this profession seems like a relic of the distant past. Things can change a lot within a couple of generations. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. This number has had a boost in the last 12 months, as the ‘double disruption’ of the pandemic and the ‘automation boom’ transforms the working world. In fact, the WEF estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may fade into obscurity due to technological advancements. However, 97 million more may emerge to meet the demands of future tech. Although we don’t know exactly what the future of work will look like, we know it’s going to be vastly different. Even 10 years ago, some of the most prominent occupations today barely existed. Social media manager, influencer, app developer – these professions have all boomed over the last decade. With innovation moving so quickly, it’s important that business owners take the lead in keeping both their team’s and their own skills up-to-date. Stay ahead of the curve and keep your business highly competitive in an evolving market.
What will the most in-demand skills be?
1. Creativity and innovative thinking
“The night was still dark and the moon shone through. The river was a pale, ghostly outline through the tall trees of the hills. He could hear a distant car horn. The moonlight streamed through the tall, dark windows, illuminating the face of an old woman that was leaning on a wall.” Do you find the above passage spooky? Does knowing that it was generated by artificial intelligence make it spookier? Many people point to examples like these in fear of what AI could produce creatively in the future. But in reality, computers are still far removed from what the human brain can achieve. While computers are bound by programming, the human brain can innovate quickly, create endlessly, and openly imagine and dream. Human creativity is not just reserved for artistic industries, creative thinking is at the core of innovation across the working board. It’s a powerful business tool that will become even more important as technology advances and automation takes over methodical tasks. Did you know that creative thinking boosts economic growth? A McKinsey study found that creative leaders were outperforming their peers on key financial metrics; 67% had above average organic revenue growth 70% had above average total return to shareholders 74% had above average net enterprise value
2. Complex problem solving
Let’s be honest, the next 10 years are going to reveal some extremely complex problems to solve. From tackling climate change to successfully emerging as a global community after Covid-19, there are going to be some multi-dimensional challenges to navigate in the next decade. During any major time of change and development, complex problem solving is one of the most important skills to have in your toolkit. Complex problem solvers will be able to; clearly define an issue, take into account various factors and perspectives, and deliver solutions that will be favourable by all stakeholders. It’s a difficult skill that takes organisation, consideration and strong articulation – and that’s why it will be so valuable in the coming years. Being a complex problem solver also lends itself very well to adaptive thinking, an essential skill for the ever-transforming workplace.
3. Analytical Reasoning
Data analysis has been a skill that has been growing in demand rapidly over the last 5 years and shows no signs of slowing down. Big data is no longer a resource that only big businesses will utilise. Now and into the future, smaller businesses can access analytics that give relevant insights to their customers and audiences. Whether a small company is pulling numbers from Google Analytics, social media or an e-commerce platform, these numbers can help shape any business strategy for growth. The access we have to this insightful data is growing, but this means little without having the right person to evaluate it. As stated by PWC; “In the future, given the speed at which volume of data can be generated and accessed, there will be a growing need to analyse the numbers, find actionable insights, to inform business strategy and decisions.” According to Deloitte, tech industries are currently experiencing a skills shortage in this area, as roles for skilled data analysts and strategists have surged. With this trend being on the incline since 2016, the heavy demand for data-savvy minds isn’t going anywhere.
4. People management
Human Resources has been an area that has seen a dramatic evolution over the last few years. Long gone are the days of the stereotypical role of HR manager that kept records, sorted paperwork and held dry annual performance reviews. HR is now a dynamic field that allows innovative individuals to align and inspire companies to perform at their very best. Now very much a strategic role, HR is critical to ensuring that companies can achieve their goals, influence a positive culture, connect with great talent and continue to grow. They will also be essential in facilitating the very upskilling we’re talking about in this article. While strong people management will continue to be an in-demand skill for the next decade, that isn’t to say it won’t continue to evolve. KPMG’s report The Future of HR in the New Reality found that in the next 12-24 months, 30% of HR managers will need to be reskilled to meet 3 new priority areas; focusing on the experience and wellbeing of employees, helping leaders to develop new management skills for remote teams, and redefining working culture for a digital mindset. Staying ahead of the digital transformation of HR will be critical for the success of achieving this.
There are plenty of things that platforms, software and AI can do for us. They can store huge amounts of data, automate repetitive activities and even answer some customer enquiries. But one thing that nobody wants to do with a computer is negotiate with it. Negotiation is one of those soft skills that’s sometimes overlooked. In some ways, this skill goes hand-in-hand with analytical reasoning. You may have the most compelling numbers possible and you may have even drawn great actionable items from these numbers. But without the negotiation skills to leverage these numbers for change, you can’t achieve much. Negotiation is no longer a great business skill just for those making big deals. Negotiation will be a key part of balancing great ideas with analytical trends. It will be a key interpersonal skill in working with managers, clients, teams and customers.
6. Tech literacy… and the willingness to embrace it
Have you ever worked for a company that’s been resistant to digital innovation? Maybe they struggled to transfer their documents to the cloud, maybe they were resistant to experimenting with new software, or maybe they just had an old school approach to working. Whatever the reason, they are at major risk of being left behind if they don’t dial up their tech literacy quickly. This is one of the most obvious, but also the most important skills on the list. With Covid-19, we’ve been exposed to the difficulty of not being prepared for digital-based work. A huge mistake would be to think that this is going to become less important as we return to normal. Remote and digital working is the new normal now for companies all over the world. It allows companies to work efficiently, find great talent outside their home locations and keep their employees happy. But of course, tech literacy is essential for these roles. Staff must be across digital communication channels, task management systems, cloud HR software and more.
A distorted view of a computer motherboard. Photo by Michael Dziedzic.
What is the best way to upskill?
We know what skills we need, so how do we go about teaching them to our employees? One statistic that we’re just going to leave here – 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. Here’s how you can connect your employees to learning opportunities.
Don’t take a ‘one size fits all approach’
Unless there’s a critical reason to, avoid blatantly assigning learning modules or courses to your staff members. By doing so, you’re ignoring your individual team members’ unique interests, skills and goals. You’re also making learning less compelling. During one-on-one meetings, talk to your team members about where they see themselves in the future. Do they want to go into management? Then they’ll need to learn more about complex problem solving in their field. Do they want to move into analysis and strategy? Then analytical reasoning is for them. Each person can be paired with a future skill that aligns with their interests.
Make learning a performance goal
When you’re writing out goals with your team-members, it can be easy to get caught up in performance metrics. A big mistake that managers make is not taking into account learning and development as a key goal that is documented for their employees to achieve. Documenting learning as a personal goal lets employees know that you’re willing to invest working time into growing their skills. We recommend doing this for all employees on a permanent basis, ensuring they continue to grow their skills in line with future trends and advancements. Of course, once they have completed their upskilling training, be sure to reward and recognise them within the team.
Use a Learning Management System
Once you’ve figured out what areas in which areas your team will upskill in, an extremely practical way for them to complete their training is by using a Learning Management System (LMS). When you use an LMS like the one you can find in Employment Hero, you can create customised learning pathways for your employees. Upload your own content or choose from thousands of pre-made learning courses. You can easily select who from your team should complete the learning and assign the courses to them all from the platform. Managers and leaders can also quickly see the status of a particular course and make sure their employees are on track with their continual development.
Seek short courses
In many ways, we’re in the golden age of learning and development right now. Online learning has made sought-after courses globally accessible. You can access courses from world-leading institutions and they’re generally very cost effective. Coursera is a popular platform that partners with universities and organisations to offer low-cost courses. In some circumstances you’ll pay per course or for accreditation. Some courses are totally free. Browse their library of courses. Codecademy can help people learn the languages of the web. Used by businesses such as Google, IBM and Facebook – it’s a great place to build coding and web skills from the ground up. Whether you want to cover data visualisation, cybersecurity, machine learning or web development – you can do this flexibly online. Browse their library of courses. The School of Life is an organisation that seeks to educate people on modern ethics to live a more fulfilled life. Any manager will understand the importance of ‘soft-skills’ – the ability to be creative, empathetic and innovative are the marks of a great leader. A misconception about these skills is that you either have them or you don’t, as if care and charisma is somehow instinctual. The School of Life challenges this idea, helping leaders and emerging leaders grow by applying psychological, philosophical and therapeutic insights to the workplace. Browse their library of courses.
Looking to the future…
In 2021 we find ourselves in the most rapidly changing working environment of all time. As we continue to navigate the “double-disruption” of the pandemic and dramatic tech advancements, it’s important to give teams the skills they need to be adaptive. Don’t wait for current skills to fade into obscurity, start inspiring your team to continually learn. You’ll be future-proofing your team and your business if you do. This blog is part of our Work Futurism series, insights-driven imaginations of future work. Explore more of the series, visit our Future Workspaces Project and download our Future Working Trends Guide.