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Age of Adaptability: The Future of Skills

In ManpowerGroup’s 2024 Age of Adaptability trend report, we shared how current demographic shifts are exacerbating labor shortages. Specifically, by 2030, members of Generation Z (born 1996-2012) will compose 58% of the workforce and a majority of the large baby boom generation will have retired.

The resulting knowledge deficit means it’s paramount to forecast the future of skills and use this understanding to fill gaps as efficiently as possible. However, for all of the talk about skills-based organizations – which deconstruct traditional roles, break them down into component parts, and then hire people to handle each part – the progress toward this shift in protocol isn’t as rapid as some would prefer. Between now and 2030, the evolution to a true skills focus will be gradual, and not as simple as merely declaring yourself a skills-based organization.

In this piece, we’ll explore how in the near future, the composition and acquisition of an in-demand, workforce-wide skills portfolio can move organizations toward the goal of a skills-based organization.

Skill Composition
The future of skills is complex and rapidly evolving. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs Report, 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted within five years.

But what skills will be most essential in a world of global, distributed, and automated work, where more surprises are likely around the corner? WEF’s 2023 research found that the hottest skills from an organizational perspective include cognitive and analytical thinking, creative thinking, self-efficacy (resilience, flexibility, and learning agility), curiosity, empathy, social influence, and quality control.

It’s notable that technical AI and big data skills ranked of lower importance than all of these. Why is this the case when AI-related skills are the third highest priority in company training strategies from now until 2027 (nine percent), and the top training priority for companies with more than 50,000 employees?

Leaders may be realizing that it’s not the hard AI and automation skills themselves that are most critical, but the ability to have an effective partner orientation toward working with smart machines. In other words, honing our human “soft” skills is the best way to differentiate our capabilities from AI’s capabilities and provide competent and ethical oversight to the technological “employees” in our workplaces.

In a 2024 LinkedIn Pulse article, systems engineer Arif Sheikh agreed with this take, suggesting that as AI-based technologies automate a greater number of tasks, the value of traditional human skills might at first seem to diminish. But this perspective overlooks the foundational role such skills play in personal development, social interaction, and professional experience.

Sheikh suggested that individuals who learn to navigate social interactions without social media before relying on these platforms will have better outcomes. “This highlights the importance of direct, human connection – a nuance that AI, for all its sophistication, cannot fully replicate,” he said.

In any case, it’s likely that by 2030, the most marketable employees will be those whose skillsets are a blend of job-specific competencies and those that make it possible to work successfully with machines and other humans in a variety of contexts. This means that in terms of training dollars, we might want to put the horse before the cart.

We should also note that within the next ten years, a majority of jobs will have a green component, which may require the development of new skills such as carbon footprinting, sustainability consulting, and climate data analysis across a large swath of industries and functions.

Skill Acquisition
In WEF’s 2023 Future of Jobs research, companies estimated that 41% of workers had completed training that bridged skills gaps. While most organizations recognize the need for workforce-wide upskilling and reskilling initiatives, the reality is that few have undertaken this mammoth task on their own.

There are obviously a lot of benefits inherent in in-house training and diverse job experience initiatives. As we covered in the Age of Adaptability report, these include transferring institutional knowledge across generations and enabling mid-career talent to take on adjacent roles that sustain organizational productivity and address fast-evolving business needs.

Per WEF’s data, about one-quarter of training in the coming years will be provided by internal learning and development groups, 15% by employer-sponsored apprenticeships, 13% by professional associations, 12% by private-sector online learning platforms, and 10% by universities and other educational institutions.

As for how workers should acquire the necessary skills to secure a job in the first place, organizations are likely to remain mixed in their preferences. Although workplace futurists have long been touting the value of microcredentials, organizations have been slow to adopt this approach. WEF found that only 20% of companies currently consider the completion of short courses and online certificates as one of their top three skills assessment criteria. Most still rely heavily on prior job experience and formal degree programs when deciding whether a candidate has the right skills to hire. Only seven percent of WEF’s respondents agreed that removing degree requirements and conducting skills-based hiring is linked to increasing talent availability.

Across the globe, organizations are pushing for government assistance in creating flexible and affordable skilling pathways. Businesses see funding for skills training as the most effective intervention for connecting talent to employment, and, according to WEF, government support of upskilling and reskilling ranked first among public policies with the potential to improve talent availability for all company sizes, regions, and industries.

Returning to the concept of the skills-based organization, in the lead-up to 2030 companies feeling greater pain associated with labor shortages are likely to take more innovative steps in this direction. Eventually recognizing the benefits of skills-based hiring to broaden external talent pools and facilitate internal redeployment, a majority of organizations will turn to technology to do it at scale.

Talent intelligence, which we addressed in the first article in this series, is a powerful AI-based technology that uses skills adjacencies to open up new possibilities for both candidates and employers. Talent intelligence platforms can be used to recruit non-traditional employees with unorthodox but highly relevant backgrounds, align core business tasks to skills, and suggest ways to combine previously unrelated skills into a single person’s role. Talent intelligence can also assist in assessing the financial value of discrete skills and how total compensation can be fairly and equitably determined based on an individual’s unique mix of skills.

The future of skills will be one of transformation. Workers of all types will have the opportunity to acquire new skills at a far more rapid pace than in the past. Through company, government, and individual upskilling and reskilling efforts, meaningful careers will be in reach for people who once had to settle for much less.

About the Author

Alexandra Levit is the founder and CEO of Inspiration at Work, a woman-owned futurist consulting business with the goal of preparing organizations and their employees to be competitive and marketable in the future business world. A nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal who currently anchors The Workplace Report, Alexandra has authored several books, including the bestsellers "They Don’t Teach Corporate in College," "Humanity Works: Merging People and Technologies for the Workforce of the Future," and "Deep Talent: How to Transform Your Organization and Empower Your Employees Through AI." In addition to past assignments writing for the New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Time, U.S. News and World Report, and The Atlantic, Alexandra is also a frequent media spokesperson and is regularly featured in outlets such as National Public Radio and CNN. She was named an American Management Association Top Leader for two years in a row and has also been Money Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year. A member of the Northwestern University Council of 100, Alexandra received the prestigious Emerging Leader Award from her alma mater. The award honors a Northwestern graduate who has made a significant impact in her field and in society. She was also named to the Thinkers50's Radar. This global organization identifies the individuals developing the most compelling business and management ideas of our age. She resides in Chicago.

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