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Research by the McKinsey Global Institute has looked at the kind of jobs that will be lost, as well as those that will be created, as automation, AI, and robotics take hold. And it has inferred the type of high-level skills that will become increasingly important as a result.
The need for manual and physical skills, as well as basic cognitive ones, will decline, but demand for technological, social and emotional, and higher cognitive skills will grow.
In a labor market that is more automated, digital, and dynamic, all citizens will benefit from having a set of foundational skills that help them fulfill the following three criteria, no matter the sector in which they work or their occupation:
Looking at the extensive research, the research team identified 56 distinct elements of talent (DELTAs) that fall within these skills groups. They are called DELTAs, rather than skills, because they are a mix of skills and attitudes. “Adaptability” and “coping with uncertainty” are attitudes, for example.
Eighteen thousand people from 15 countries completed the online questionnaire and were given a score on a scale of 0 to 100 for each DELTA.
The results showed respondents’ proficiency was lowest in two skill groups in the digital category—software use and development and understanding digital systems. Proficiency in the skill groups for communication and planning and ways of working—both in the cognitive category—was also lower than average.
Overall, survey participants with a university degree had higher average DELTA proficiency scores than those without, suggesting—perhaps not surprisingly—that participants with higher levels of education are better prepared for changes in the workplace. However, a higher level of education is not associated with higher proficiency in all DELTAs. The association holds true for many DELTAs
Holding all variables constant—including demographic variables and proficiency in all other elements - research showed employment was most strongly associated with proficiency in several DELTAs within the self-leadership category, namely “adaptability,” “coping with uncertainty,” “synthesizing messages,” and “achievement orientation.
Digital proficiency seems to be particularly associated with higher incomes: a respondent with higher digital proficiency across all digital DELTAs was 41 percent more likely to earn a top-quintile income than respondents with lower digital proficiency.
The equivalent comparison was 30 percent for cognitive DELTAs, 24 percent for self-leadership DELTAs, and 14 percent for interpersonal DELTAs.
Job satisfaction is also associated with certain DELTAs, especially those in the self-leadership category. Holding all variables, including income, constant, “self-motivation and wellness,” “coping with uncertainty,” and “self-confidence,” had the highest impact on respondents’ job satisfaction
The research findings help define the particular skills citizens are likely to require in the future world of work and suggest how proficiency in them can influence work-related outcomes, namely employment, income, and job satisfaction.
Research suggests governments could consider reviewing and updating curricula to focus more strongly on the DELTAs. Given the weak correlation between proficiency in self-leadership and interpersonal DELTAs and higher levels of education, a strong curricula focus on these soft skills may be appropriate.
Governments could consider setting up institutions for research and innovation in education to fund the research, facilitate researchers’ access to schools to test innovative solutions, and establish which methods work for which DELTAs.
The majority of respondents we surveyed—like the majority of people in society at large—were no longer in national education systems. Raising proficiency in the DELTAs would therefore require continuous adult training. The fact that proficiency in digital DELTAs—shown to improve the chances of achieving higher incomes—was lower among older survey respondents who had left the national educational system illustrates this point.
AI algorithms could guide users on whether they need to upskill or reskill for a new profession and shortlist relevant training programs. To develop accurate algorithms, governments would need to collect and organize data on market demand for jobs and skills, as well as data on training programs. Programs listed should include those that teach DELTAs correlated to work-related outcomes. Self-leadership DELTAs could be particularly important given their link to employment.
Occupation-based qualifications risk becoming outdated rapidly as occupations requiring new skills emerge. Hence, skills-based accreditation may better suit employers’ needs. Providers could develop programs that cover the practical skills and DELTAs required to perform a certain occupation, but add new components or remove old ones as those occupations evolved.
Several AI start-ups have developed algorithms capable of identifying and updating the skill sets required for different occupations.
Governments could adapt these to enable a dynamic, skill-based certification system.
Some governments award lifelong learning grants to their citizens, who can enrol in training programs within a national aggregator. To help equip citizens for the future world of work, governments could funnel funds toward programs that include the DELTAs associated with employment. For example, trainees could be offered spending vouchers for particular programs only, while funding to program providers could be conditional upon employment outcomes or the provision of training modules that include certain DELTAs.
Most children around the world have access to primary and secondary schooling, but not all of it is of high quality, and early education for the very young—the best age at which to develop certain mindsets and attitudes—is unaffordable for most people in most countries.
Today’s technological revolution should drive further expansion to ensure universal, high-quality, affordable access to education from early childhood to retirement and to ensure that curricula include the DELTAs that will future-proof citizens’ skills in the world of work.
Sometimes the most important life lessons are the ones we end up learning the hard way.
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