How can we prepare for new skills demanded by the future of work?

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What are the most important skills needed to survive in the future?
Can they be taught via non-traditional and/or digital methods?
Which workforce segment will need massive skilling for the future of work ?

These are some of the thoughts plaguing economies, enterprises and individual workers around the world. Even if it is as yet uncertain what the future of work will look like, what is certain is that today’s workforce will need to up-skill itself in varying degrees to meet tomorrow’s world. It is also certain that the term “students” will include workers, needing to re-skill themselves to remain relevant in the workforce of the future.

According to deliberations at the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s)  Future of Work Centenary initiative, skill development issues to be considered today should be those that provide security, equality and prosperity in the future of work.

Skills development systems for tomorrow’s workforce

It is certain that technological, climate and demographic change will have a profound impact on the demand for skills for the future of work, apart from other factors. Today, the future of work needs systems:

1. To deliver foundational skills to the existing workforce to embrace changing technological opportunities; and
2. To facilitate dynamic learning over the life cycle of the workforce to ensure that pace is kept with digitalization and other factors of change

What skills will the future of work demand?

Technological change will constantly affect the demand for skills. It is likely to have effects across all levels of skills and education. Automation and robotization will increase the demand for technical skills that can facilitate problem-solving and innovation, particularly in occupations related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to technical skills, specific vocational skills will also be required for new technologies. To facilitate the adaptive capacity to continually improve skills over a worker’s life cycle, these cognitive skills will need to be complemented by a range of soft skills.

The right combination of these technical, soft and core work skills will provide workers with sound future employment prospects, enabling them to migrate easily between jobs, occupations and sectors. And these are the key trends that are likely to aggravate the disadvantages that low-skilled workers currently face in the labour market.

Skills development strategies: will need to support displaced workers as well as facilitate the “greening” of the economy. New job opportunities in the “green economy” will emerge in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, recycling, repair and remanufacturing. These areas will require upgrading of existing skills.

Demographic change: is likely to affect the skills requirements of an ageing labour force, including a growing skills demand for care-giving professions. New opportunities for care work will increase the demand for empathetic skills such as nursing and elderly care, as well as of soft skills like communication and empathic listening. In countries like India, with a growing number of youth entering the labour market, soft skills—especially inter-personal skills—will become a decisive factor in an employer’s decision to select a specific candidate.

Between 2010 and 2030, according to a recent ILO report (prepared for the Second Meeting of the Global Commission on the Future of Work, February 2018) 60% of the increase in the global workforce will occur in developing countries like India, where educational attainment is lagging. Demographic changes in the sub-continent, combined with unequal access to education, are already causing a skills mismatch with a surplus of low-skilled workers and a shortage of medium-skilled workers.

This is the enormous skill gap that needs to be immediately addressed in our billion-strong workforce if we are to make ourselves ready for the future of work.

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