What skills do we need for future careers?

23/01/2019 — Graeme Smith

When you start predicting what might happen in the future, one thing is certain you will get it wrong sometimes, mostly or all the time! So why then is it important then to try and think about what future careers will look like?

Throughout history economies that have a workforce with the right skills for their immediate and short-term business needs encourage business investment and then see stronger economic growth in the long term. Developing new skills takes time, so the challenge is to have clarity on what the future business needs are likely to be.

If you consider how industry has developed throughout history, as explained by the World Economic Forum, we have seen four industrial revolutions, each of which has fundamentally changed the jobs landscape.

  1. 1784 saw the introduction of steam and water powered mechanical production. This revolution started in the UK and precipitated the change from the rural economy to urbanisation. By 1800, 10% of the entire UK’s workforce had moved to London.
  2. 1870 and electricity powered mass production, petroleum powered vehicles and steel construction develop the growth of the railways which again changed the whole landscape. As Henry Ford built his first car he quickly knew he needed to reinvent the ‘factory’ in order to scale. The automation of factories resulted in what we now call mass employment and the production line.
  3. In 1969 Intel developed the first microprocessor and we saw the birth of the home computer. As a result, many of the data complex and repetitive tasks previously performed by office clerks were automated. This also enabled the early stage development of robotics which the original production line in factories started to adapt.
  4. Since 2010 we have witnessed the digital transformation. Whilst this technically started in the 1960’s with computers, it’s really only in the last few year that we are seeing new business models evolving around data management, cloud technology and online platforms.

You could argue we are now starting to see the 5th industrial revolution with the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. In Jersey this is most noticeable in the financial services sector where new disruptive start-ups are attacking the traditional business models in areas such as banking and insurance.

When considering how AI might impact future careers it’s interesting to look at the World Forum paper from 2016. As it runs to 167 pages and has more tables than Ikea, I thought I would share with you what they see as the key skills they feel we need for 2020 namely:

This is quite a different list from the skill mix that would have been identified in previous decades and now we also need to consider that the pace of change which is only going to accelerate. Unlike the current workforce, young people today need to be prepared for multiple careers and continual skills development.

Each of these revolutions created the need for new skills and led to the development of different career paths. I said at the beginning that predicting the future is not an exact science, but we do need to consider the different ways our economy might develop in order that Jersey can be ahead of the game in developing skills for the future. And we need to remember that it is not only our children who will be affected but also the current workforce who will see real change in the coming years rather decades.

One of the key themes that came out of Jersey Business’s Enterprise Week keynote event was the critical need for Jersey to develop a ‘workplace plan’. It was pleasing to hear both the private sector and the public sector recognise that both have a real role to play from early stage education through to reskilling of todays’ workforce.

By working collaboratively and taking input from some of the larger businesses on how they will be using technology to improve their productivity, we will start to get a feel for the impact on jobs and the type of skills development we need.

In this regard Jersey should see this as an opportunity to ensure that, with the right investment, we continue to be seen not only as a great place to do business today but also in the future. We may not get all our predictions correct but we will I feel get most right.

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