The digital economy will redefine the future of work

There is a real fear that as more and more companies move to embrace digital and artificial intelligence technologies, the opportunities for the new jobs created by this move won’t be evenly distributed among the workforce.

Simply put, people in marginalized groups will face some of the biggest challenges in adapting because they are likely to lack the awareness, opportunity or means to change careers, according to MaRS.

And concern over having a skilled and well-trained workforce for our new digital economy is just one of the many focuses of Canada’s biggest science and technology incubator. For this reason, MaRS feels there is an urgent need to help these workers reskill for the new economy.

MaRS cites a recently released report, New Skills Now: Inclusion in the Digital Economy. It was put out by Accenture, a global management consulting and professional services firm that provides strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations services.

Change impacting the entire global workforce

In a 2016 study by the OECD of 21, it was found that in all countries surveyed across the globe, workers with a lower level of education are arguably at the highest risk of displacement by digital and AI technologies.

The study also found that 40 percent of workers with a secondary education were at risk of job automation, but only 5.0 percent of workers with some college were at risk, notes the Accenture report.

In the United Kingdom, a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on August 8 said that almost 12.6 million of the adult population lack basic digital skills and around 72 percent of employers say they will not even interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills.

Additionally, according to a survey by Barclays Digital Development Index, 43 percent of UK workers lack the digital skills needed for most jobs. So readers can see where all the concern is coming from.

And the United States is in the same predicament as Canada, the UK, and many other countries. In a study published by CityLab in November 2017, it was found that more than 32 million workers are employed in highly digital jobs, while nearly 66 million work in medium-digital positions, and 41 million work in low-digital ones.

And while the numbers are impressive, the study also found that the share of jobs that require no or minimal digital skills is dwindling rapidly. So there is a great divide developing in the American workforce that means some groups of workers are going to be left out in the cold.

What is required to succeed in the digital age?

The Accenture report identifies six categories of skills that workers will need to succeed in the new digital age:

1. Learn to earn: Foundational skills needed to be workforce-ready, such as digital literacy 2.Build tech know-how: Skills to use, manipulate and create technologies and data 3.Apply “We’Q”: Skills to interact, build relationships and show the self-awareness needed to work effectively with others, in-person and virtually 4.Create and solve: Skills for creative problem-solving, using empathy, logic and novel thinking 5. Cultivate a growth mindset: Attitude of staying relevant, continuously learning and growing, and adapting to change 6.Specialize for work: Relevant specialized skills to address local market priorities and industry-specific needs, skills in this family are not static and will need to continuously change based on context, industry, market demand and type of work

What can companies do to meet the challenges?

Regardless of which study you cite, all of the research comes to just about the same conclusions – Retraining, or as Accenture calls it, reskilling of workers. And just as many projects require special skills, this is one of the suggestions made in the study – Using an innovative program design.

In this case, faster, larger, more creative approaches are needed, including project-based skill training. And companies need to allow for practice time and spaces to allow employees to become comfortable with the new skills.

Companies need to create durable learning. This is important for a number of reasons. Skills can’t just be adaptive, although that is needed, the skill must be needed and it must be relevant. This is where talking up the skill set is helpful, letting employees in on the bigger picture.

Making new skills challenging is also helpful because they promote socialization and interest in the learner. This, in turn, leads to the development of skills an employee will remember, instilling an interest in further learning.

Continuous evolution is basically staying ahead of the market, and any company worth its beans wants to continually evolve in this positive direction. It makes complete sense that successful learning and workforce development programs have good monitoring and evaluation systems embedded within the program itself.

There is still a lot to be done to successfully transition to this new digital economy, but keep in mind that it is happening now. This is why MaRS recommends that both employees and employers “act collaboratively to develop new ways to teach and learn for a more inclusive future.”


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