“Skills of the future,” “Digital-ready leadership skills,” “Upskilling and reskilling in the digital era” – these are just some titles of the articles I wrote before the pandemic. My treatise was that with the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the amalgamation of its various digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), employees, workers, and professionals need to acquire and develop certain skills to make themselves relevant in the workplace of the future. It was my urgent call to action.
Now, these skills are more urgent than ever. The pandemic accelerated the trends driving the evolving skill requirements in today’s workplace. With workers forced to work from home and economies slowing down, the nature of work and the skills required by companies are likewise shifting drastically.
According to the recent “The future of work after Covid-19” report of McKinsey, “the pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations.” This highlights the key trends on the future of work such as “remote work and virtual meetings are likely to continue,” “Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) may propel faster adoption of automation and AI,” and the accelerated growth of e-commerce to five times than before the pandemic.
The result, according to the forecast of McKinsey, is a shift in jobs to the following occupational categories – health aides, tech, care workers; STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) professionals; health professionals; managers, business/legal professionals; creatives and arts management, transportation services; education and workforce training; and in certain parts of Asia are community services; and customer services and sales.
These trends emphasize the urgent call to action that I have been harping on – the need to upskill and reskill workers. Since the skill gap that we witness today will only grow accelerated in the future, companies need to upskill and reskill their workers because the skills required in the workplace of the future will be simply not available in the market.
What are these skills? Apart from the hard skills such as those in AI, automation, coding and programming, and cloud technologies, workers will likewise need soft skills. These are the three digital-ready skills – empathy, collaboration, and complex problem-solving. In fact, these are the distillation of the two-decade-long study at Google, which discovered that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills, which I have summarized to three – empathy, collaboration, and complex problem-solving, and they are all interconnected.
Empathy is at the core of these soft skills. Health care workers, educators, customer service agents, and the other future jobs outlined by McKinsey require empathy, especially during and post-Covid. Companies need to put empathy at their core to understand emerging customer needs to create better products and services that meet these needs.
The commonality between empathy and collaboration is communication. Empathy is practiced through communicating with people – the self-same skill that is required to practice collaboration. Collaboration is important nowadays in the workplace to get the job done, especially when workers are remotely working without physical interaction with coworkers. Collaborating virtually will be an all-important skill in the hybrid workplace of the future, where colleagues reporting physically still practice safety protocols while needing to collaborate with work-from-home colleagues.
On the other hand, collaboration intersects with problem-solving through a skill called teaming and finding solutions. Teaming promotes a sense of belonging and enhances motivation within a group, which are necessary for effective collaboration. They are also important in solving complex problems as diverse team members contribute to finding a solution to a complex problem.
Indeed, these hard and soft skills can be learned and acquired through reskilling and upskilling. The greater challenge is how fast can companies adapt and retool their workers now and for the years ahead.
Technology is playing a crucial role in this war for upskilling and reskilling. Newer learning management systems enable adaptive learning anywhere and anytime while delivering various content formats, from microlearning to supplementing traditional classroom training.
The author is the chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org