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Das Online-Magazin der Angestellten Schweiz

The Work Skills You Will Need

You are an expert in your field? You are a well-liked team leader? You are familiar with the current computer programs? Good for you – but it will not be enough for the future working world. New skills are required. We tell you which.

Two and a half decades ago I used a desktop computer with a word processing program, email and Internet access, a landline phone, a fax machine, a printer, a photocopier, a cassette recorder plus pen and paper for my tasks as a communication officer. These tasks were not too many: media relations, writing content for the member magazine (print) and the website, organizing press conferences. To measure our success we we had the media monitored and we conducted reader surveys.

Today my working world looks much different. The smartphone has replaced most other gadgets except for the computer, which is now a notebook. The number of communication channels has exploded, with an online edition of the magazine, various newsletters, social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram) and a news ticker for media releases. In addition to text we produce videos and other visuals. We use a customer relationship management tool and data analytics tools for the monitoring of our communication channels and the media. To be able to handle all these new tools and programs, I had to acquire the respective technical skills. With only with my core competencies in communication I would be pretty lost at my job today.

The story doesn’t finish here. The landscape of work will look dramatically different in another ten, twenty years – and not only in my type of job. In this article you learn why and which skills you will need in the future working world. The article is mainly based on the study “Future Work Skills” (2020) of the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

Six Drivers of Change

“Disruption” is the buzzword often used to describe the rapid and sometimes sudden changes in the working world. Managers, in hubris, like to think, that they with their forward-thinking actions are the cause of these shifts. But at best, they are surfing a wave. Rather, the shifts are driven by developments in society and the economy.

The skills study mentions the following six main drivers of change:

  1. Extreme longevity: we live ever longer and stay healthier. “Individuals will need to rearrange their careers, family life, and education to accommodate this demographic shift”, the study concludes. This means we will work longer, we will have multiple careers and lifelong learning becomes a must.
  2. Rise of smart machine and systems: workplace automation frees humans from repetitive tasks. But what will the tasks of humans then be? Everything which can’t be automated and the machines are not good at, of course There will be “a new kind of partnership with machines”, they will “augment and extend our own capabilities”.
  3. Computational world: a massive increase in processing power makes the world a programmable system. “Our work and personal lives will increasingly demand abilities to interact with data, make data based decisions und use data to design for desired outcomes.”
  4. New media ecology: new communication tools require new media literacy. “We are literally developing a new vernacular, a new language, for communication.” Beyond text we will increasingly use video, animation and other visual communication media. Individuals will be required “to engage in activities such as online personal reputation and identity management”.
  5. Superstructured organizations: new technologies and social media are driving a reorganization of how we produce and create value. “A new generation of organization concepts is coming from fields such as game design, neuroscience, and happiness psychology.”
  6. Globally connected world: Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations.

Ten Skills for the Future Work Force

What does this mean for the human workforce? What skills do we need in the working world shaped by these developments? The study lists 10 skills that are important for modern professionals:

  1. Sense-making: higher-level thinking skills that can’t be codified. These are “skills that help us create unique insights critical to decision making”. The study emphasizes that sense-making “will emerge as a skill workers increasingly need to capitalize on”.
  2. Social intelligence: our human ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way. The authors of the study are confident, that “our emotionality and social IQ developed over millennia of living in groups will continue to be one of the vital assets that give human workers a comparative advantage over machines”.
  3. Novel and adaptive thinking: the proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions beyond what is rote or rule-based. As middle-skill job opportunities are declining, this is required for high-skill tasks as well as low-skill manual tasks. “These skills will be at the premium in the next decade, particularly as automation and offshoring continue.”
  4. Cross-cultural competency: the ability to operate in different cultural settings. “Organizations increasingly see diversity as a driver of innovation”, the study asserts. We need to be able to operate in “whatever environment” we “find ourselves”.
  5. Computational thinking: the ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning. Computational thinking skills will be needed to make sense of data and information. But we must be “aware of its limitations”, the study warns.
  6. New-media literacy: the ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms. “The next generation of workers will need to become fluent in forms such as video. They will also need to be comfortable creating and presenting their own visual information.”
  7. Transdisciplinarity: the ability to understand concempts across multiple disciplines. “Transdisciplinarity goes beyond bringing together researchers from different disciplines. It means education researchers who can speak languages of multiple disciplines.”
  8. Design Mindset: a design approach to our work. “Workers of the future need to become adept at recognizing the kind of thinking that different tasks require, and making adjustments to their work environments that enhance their ability to accomplish these tasks.
  9. Cognitive load management: the ability to discriminate and filter information for importance. To deal with the “information onslaught” or “cognitive overload” we will have to develop techniques and utilize new tools.

10. Virtual collaboration: work in virtual teams. Leaders of virtual teams must “develop strategies for engaging and motivating a dispersed group”. Apps such as “Teams” or “Yammer” can support such teams.

Humans can concentrate on the essentials

While the study is focused on the U.S. labor market, the findings are also valid for Switzerland, as the working world is ever more globalized.

My own job has been affected by all of the six drivers mentioned in the study, although not to the same extent. The biggest changes were caused by the rise of smart machines and systems as well as the new media ecology.

Of the future skills, many are of special importance for my job as a communication officer: sense-making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, new media literacy, transdisciplinarity and cognitive load management. Computational thinking, too, is rapidly becoming more important.

All of these new skills help me to do my job to the best of my abilities. I can deal with loads of information, make sense of it, process it and communicate it in a comprehensible way. To improve my work I am able to analyze piles of data and derive strategic actions from it.

I find the new working world as described in the study more attractive than the rather routine-based old one. Boring tasks can be automated, so humans can concentrate on what is interesting and essential. Sure, we always need to be on our toes, we must be flexible and, most important of all, ready to learn all our lives long. This can be exhausting at times, but also rewarding and fun.

Employees Switzerland supports you in finding out exactly what you need for the new working world and offers you further training (see box).

Hansjörg Schmid

Dienstag, 26. Okt 2021

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