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Changing technology and the shift in worker skillsets

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

Businesses need to look to the future to survive. They need to predict not only how their customers will change, but also, if they want to retain and recruit the best talent, how their workforce will evolve too. Millennials will account for close to 75 per cent of the workforce by 2025 and so the dominant working style will soon be a millennial-friendly one. This generation will shape the world of work for years to come; their career aspirations, attitudes towards work, and knowledge of new technologies will define the culture of the future workplace. What does this look like?

We decided to find out first-hand through a series of workshops and focus groups with young people new to the world of work. Using this approach, combined with quantitative research, social listening and big data analysis, has allowed us to take an in-depth look at the skills required for workers of the future, as well as a snapshot of the broader conversations around this topic. We discuss some of the insights we gained below.

Shifting skillsets

Rapid advancements in technology over the last few years, from autonomous transport and Artificial Intelligence to advanced robotics and machine learning have transformed working practices, and as the way we work has changed, so have the required skillsets. By next year, it is expected that over one third of skills (35 per cent) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. This shifting skillset will undoubtedly result in some jobs disappearing entirely, while others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace.

Millennials understand that technology is a major driver for change, having grown up with computers in their homes, navigating smartphones and using tablets. They are well aware that the nature of work is rapidly changing, but what is certain is that the future workforce will need to align its skillset to keep pace with this shift.

Lifelong learning is key to career success 

The millennials we spoke to expressed concern that these rapid developments in technology have the potential to outpace the existing workforce’s skillset. The concept of lifelong learning was presented by the young workers as a possible solution to this concern, empowering individuals in an age where there is such a reliance on technology, helping to close the gap between exponential tech development vs linear human development.

Though technology is increasingly enhancing work today, the millennials we spoke to are looking for guidance that’s far broader than just how to use technology. The idea of continually educating yourself extends far beyond an understanding of technology and is seen as central to building confidence, creativity, interpersonal skills and ethical attitudes. The millennials saw lifelong learning as key not only to their career development, but also to their general wellbeing.

Anticipating which skills will be important to the workforce of the future will enable organisations to develop their businesses with the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ at their core. Through our conversations with millennials we identified three key skills that we all felt would be most important for future workers.

  • Creative thinking, considering that technology will take on more and more of the repetitive and admin based tasks, this will give the workforce more time to spend being creative and focus on more creative based tasks.
  • Secondly is communication, it will be key for future workers to be good communicators, whether that be in a face to face meeting or remotely. New methods of interacting such as instant messaging tools like Slack or videoconferencing systems like GoToMeeting are becoming ever more popular in the workplace. The future workforce will not only need to learn how to communicate effectively through various systems and scenarios, but learn how to socialise in the workplace and in a business environment, a different skillset from anything that they might learn at university.
  • Flexibility was the other key skill identified during the focus group. As technology accelerates changes in the way we work, workers will need to be willing to adapt and stay open minded to these shifting environments and evolve to fit the changing needs of the business.

Millennials also felt they needed to develop leadership, empathy and humanity, and the ability to collaborate. They believe that the workers of the future should be eager to learn, and able to work in a multigenerational environment. Talking about skills necessary for a future worker, participants of the workshop emphasised the importance of a mentoring community. Young professionals felt that business should not only support them in obtaining hard technical skills, but have a responsibility to enable lifelong learning in the workplace. Businesses will need to accept responsibility to help future workers embrace changes equitably and sustainably.

The impact of technology on creativity

Creativity was identified as a core skill for future workers, and with the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes. Business leaders need to be proactive in up-skilling and retraining people so that they benefit from technology and show how it can support and develop creativity.

The right technology should empower the user to be imaginative rather than users confining their creativity to the capabilities of technology. Businesses need to provide tools such as interactive displays or presentation software that incorporate intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces, so that they don’t hinder workers’ creative thinking by wasting time trying to figure out how to operate the technology, instead they support creativity, stimulating better group work and discussion among workers.

Technology also opens up workers and businesses to a wealth of information that can stimulate and enhance the creative process by expanding their pool of knowledge. The data that technology can provide to the workforce will enable workers to have a fuller picture of what is happening and allow them to seize the most relevant opportunities.

Mentoring skills for the future

It is clear from our conversations with millennials that there is an expectation that businesses are responsible for developing readiness. To foster the skillsets that the future workforce will need, businesses need to create environments where learning is supported. These environments can be used as social spaces to encourage interaction and networking in the workplace, and can form the basis of creating a mentorship community. A great example of this is the Barclays Digital Eagles, where younger and older generations learn skills from each other. Millennials can benefit from a wealth of expertise gained over a lifetime in business, while older generations can learn how to get the best out of technology.

Shared office spaces and co-working environments are a great way to foster this co-operation of multiple, diverse skill-sets and cultures. These spaces encourage interaction and enable collaboration with people from a different industry or department to provide new perspectives and ideas of working. Some of these themes are already taking root and gaining popularity, companies like WeWork are a good example of this in wanting to create an environment for co-creation and sharing of ideas. Even with the best technologies, available for free, it can be very hard to do it alone. Future workers and businesses should harness the power of communities. Peer-to-peer skill sharing can help people discover themselves, and then build careers that have purpose and meaning.

The key message for businesses is that to empower their workforce, they need to tailor their workspaces to enable lifelong learning. These spaces need to incorporate technology that nurtures skills like creative thinking, good communication and flexibility, but also support future workers by offering programmes that constantly develop future skills and therefore deliver on what the next working generation is looking for.

At Sharp we think that people are the true power of any business, and that the needs of people rather than the business should define the shape and purpose of tomorrow’s technology. 

Rob Davis, Business Manager, Sharp Business Systems UK