Future of Work

Skills Transformation For The 2021 Workplace

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2020 has been a year like no other. It’s the year that a pandemic brought the entire world to a complete stand-still at the same time. We may not yet know how the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus will stack up to previous disasters, how the economic fallout will compare to previous recessions, or what the last political impact will be. But one milestone is becoming clearer: COVID-19 is likely to be remembered as the first truly global event in human history.

As the entire world went into lockdown mode and businesses and schools were forced to go remote, everyone had to pivot. The way we worked, learned, shopped, socialized, and entertained changed – maybe forever. Now, as the hope of multiple vaccines looms large and the world is slowly but surely looking to transition to a new normal, it’s time to reflect on the past for lessons learned and plan for the future accordingly.

Redefining the skills framework

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Job report, there are seven key professional clusters emerging. These reflect the adoption of new technologies—giving rise to the demand for green economy jobs, roles at the forefront of the data and AI economy, new roles in engineering, cloud computing, and product development.  The future of work shows demand for a wide variety of skills that match these professional opportunities, inclusive of both disruptive technical skills and specialized industry skills and core business skills.

The growing interdependence of human and technical skills is not the only factor that demands new skill-development frameworks. Research suggests that skills generally have a “half-life” of about five years, with more technical skills at just two and a half years. The short shelf-life of technical skills requires a continuous re-skilling effort to stay relevant.   According to the Chief Learning Officer Magazine, business leaders and learners need a completely new model for thinking about skills, a model that fosters thinking about emerging questions:

  • Are skills more durable or more perishable?
  • Are skills transferable across roles, job families or industries?
  • Are skills in demand, and will they be so in the future?

Planning for the unknown

To illustrate the longevity of a skill, CLO Magazine divides skill durability into three categories:

  1. Perishable skills : Half-life < 2.5 years – Specific technology skills that are updated frequently; organization-specific policies and tools and specialized processes all can be classified as perishable skills.
  2. Semi-durable skills : 2.5 years <Half-life < 7.5 years – These tend to be those frameworks with base sets of knowledge from which field-specific technologies, processes and tools arise.
  3. Durable skills : Half-life > 7.5 years – They constitute a base layer of mindsets and dispositions. They include skills like design thinking, project management practices, effective communication, leadership which are more foundational in nature.

As organizations and individuals get ready for a reset and start to think through a skills refresh, it’s important to consider just how transferable a given set of skills really are. This along with the durability of the skills provides a framework that can adapt with the changing business needs.

Building a skills tree

While training people on perishable skills provides a quick ROI, it allows for little flexibility between roles and job families. Approaching training from a durable-skills-first perspective empowers an individual to make dynamic, longer-term contributions to an organization as they navigate through various jobs during the course of their tenure. Following a tree-shaped model may be a more effective way of thinking through skill development: Durable skills form the roots of the tree, with semi-durable frameworks forming the branches, and more perishable skills coming and going like the leaves with the changing seasons. The objective is to grow a tree that is tall and wide, and flourishes in every season, feeding the roots that keep the tree steady, growing branches of new expertise, and fostering the leaves that change with the passage of time.

This tree-shaped paradigm enables us to view mindset and framework learning as essential to the task at hand. This organic model represents a different way of thinking about skill development, one that encourages us to develop skills with an eye for their longevity, their transferability and their relevance for roles that our organizations may need to fill years into the future. It also ensures that as individuals our employability quotient stays high as the skills mix includes in-demand skills which are current and relevant.

Bringing Skills, learning and career together for an individual

As an individual looking to navigate this new post-COVID world we need to nourish our personal skills tree with a variety of skills that helps us develop capabilities aligned with whatever our chosen career path may be. Here are some resources to help you identify and acquire the skills that can set you up for success in 2021 and beyond.

The Top 10 Skills Recruiters Are Looking for in 2021

LinkedIn Emerging jobs report 2020

World Economic Forum Jobs of Tomorrow Report

Workforce Strategies for Post COVID Recovery

Thriving after COVID-19: What skills do employees need?

Forbes: What Are The Fastest Growing Cybersecurity Skills In 2021?

Organizations and individuals have had to do a big reset of how they study, work, shop, and entertain. Life as we knew it has changed forever. But, the one thing that the pandemic has taught us is that we are a resilient human-race. Each of us responded to restrictions imposed, thrived during the hardest of times, and now it’s time to reimagine and rebuild our future. Happy Holidays, stay safe!

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings” – Lao Tzu


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