There’s no question that the disruption of the digital age has steamrolled entire industries, along with the well-paid work they once offered. In the midst of this non-stop change, no one can be blamed for wondering if their industry might be next. But the news isn’t all bad. In its latest report on the future of jobs, the World Economic Forum (WEF) offers encouraging predictions, along with some clear guidance on how to succeed in what it calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Let’s start by getting the bad news out of the way: The WEF predicts that 75 million jobs might be lost to technology between now and the year 2022. But the WEF also predicts that 133 million new roles might emerge, jobs that are better adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms.
The WEF lists several technologies that will be getting even more business investment over the next three years. Each of them involves skill sets that are now in critically short supply, and all of them will call for a constant upgrading of skills as the technologies continue to evolve:
Of all the innovations crying out for skilled people, high-speed mobile internet ranks first. Right now, more than 5 billion people around the world have access to a smartphone (more than have access to basic sanitation). As 5G networks begin to arrive in North America, there will be even more demand for mobile-specific skills, including app development, testing and security.
By 2022, the WEF tells us, 62 percent of data processing, search and transmission will be handled by machines (compared to 46 percent today). And enterprise will want to get better at turning all that passive information into a source of actionable insights. Unfortunately, the skills to handle big data will continue to be in frustratingly short supply: A recent KPMG survey shows that 67 percent of CIOs are struggling to find the right talent, with big data and analytics topping the list of the roles that are toughest to fill.
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Blockchain covers a whole lot more than Bitcoin. The built-in, verifiable security of blockchain makes it ideal for healthcare and other industries where privacy is key. But there’s definitely some catching up to do as far as the necessary skills are concerned. In the WEF study, 20 percent of respondents in the healthcare, finance and information sectors say they expect to invest up to a year in getting their workforce ready for blockchain adoption.
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In barely a decade of public availability, cloud computing has become the bedrock of modern enterprise application platforms. The WEF forecasts point to even more growth in the future. In terms of opportunities for upgrading skills, the greatest anticipated needs are in DevOps, automation, orchestration, configuration management and security.
The potential of machine learning is only beginning to be realized. Today, its most common uses include fraud detection and personalized online selling. In the future, it will guide the millions of decisions needed to safely operate self-driving cars and other sophisticated technologies.
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If there’s one essential takeaway from the World Economic Forum report, it’s that organizations are not yet equipped with the skills demanded by this, the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “By 2022, no less than 54 percent of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling. Of these, about 35 percent are expected to require additional training of up to six months, 9 percent will require reskilling lasting six to 12 months, while 10 percent will require additional skills training of more than a year.”
The need to build workforce skills is obvious, but not every organization is ready to invest in its entire workforce. Over half the employers surveyed say they plan to develop their people’s skills, but that group is reserving the investment for their most valued personnel. In other words, the report says, “those most in need of reskilling and upskilling are least likely to receive such training.”
The World Economic Forum sees the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as overwhelmingly positive. But to unlock this potential, “workers will need to have the appropriate skills enabling them to thrive in the workplace of the future and the ability to continue to retrain throughout their lives. Crafting a sound in-company lifelong learning system, investing in human capital and collaborating with other stakeholders on workforce strategy should thus be key business imperatives, critical to companies’ medium to long-term growth, as well as an important contribution to society and social stability.”
If it isn’t clear today, it will soon become obvious that enterprise can no longer outsource or hire its way out of a skills shortage. Sooner or later, top organizations will take it for granted that building a culture of lifelong learning is an absolute prerequisite for success.
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