By Patricia Bouweraerts —
The ground is shifting underneath peoples’ dress shoes in the workplace right now — skill sets needed in most jobs are changing at such a hurried pace that employees, education and training programs are having a hard time keeping up with the tremblor.
The World Economic Forum (the Forum) reports that “skills instability,” the change in skills for jobs across all industries will affect countries uniquely. The necessary skill sets for U.S. occupations will experience a 29 percent change from 2016-2020, according to the Forum.
Employers are looking for employees that do not necessarily have a specific college credential. Some are looking for a unique set of technical skills, others for a broad-based education with the ability to learn and adapt quickly.
Other emerging trends in U.S. states include the following:
1. Rising need for education and industry to work together, solving skills mismatch
2. Focus on soft skills such as sales, communication, diplomacy, and critical thinking
3. Growth in fields such as allied health, computer security, medical devices and construction
4. Requirements for technology proficiency and programming machinery
5. Increased blurring of the lines between professional and personal life
Employees in 2017 will need to be able to adapt to the seismic transformations — change in the types of tasks they perform, the tools used to do their jobs, and working alone or with others from internet-enabled mobile devices.
One: education to solve skills mismatch
The Forum reported in 2016 that education systems are continuing to function with traditional approaches refined in the 1900s, holding back the match between skills students are learning and the talents they will need in their future jobs.
“Two such legacy issues burdening formal education systems worldwide are the dichotomy between humanities and sciences and applied and pure training, on the one hand, and the prestige premium attached to tertiary-certified forms of education (college and post-secondary) — rather than the actual content of learning — on the other hand,” according to the Future of Jobs 2016 Report posted on WEForum.org.
The organization recommends more partnership between government, education and industry.
A Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) economist said that there are many more workers in the state with bachelor’s degrees than who need bachelor’s degrees.
“About 250,000 hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, whereas 150,000 jobs in the state require a bachelor’s degree or higher,” said Leanndra Copeland, in 2013 an economist in the Research and Analysis Bureau of DETR. “So, a lot of people in the state are underemployed, but that’s not to say there may be a skills mismatch with students not learning the skills that are most needed in Nevada.”
She said that in the Silver State the need for those with an associate degree was expected to increase by 12.4 percent from 2010-2020.
A different economist — this time in private industry — said during a September 2016 public guest lecture at Truckee Meadows Community College that by 2020 there will be 19 million more four-year college graduates in the U.S. and only seven million more jobs that require bachelor’s degrees.
Dusty Wunderlich, Founder and CEO of Bristlecone Holdings™, calls this departure from the elasticity of demand “education arbitrage.”
“There are more highly educated workers in the market than jobs available for them, which is why we now have more college graduates working in retail than we have soldiers in the U.S. Army,” he also wrote on Brighthub.com.
Wunderlich said that according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65 percent of school children will eventually be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist.
“There is a massive mismatch between what companies like mine say they want and who they want to hire, and what the education system is putting out,” Wunderlich said during the Sept. 22 presentation.
Potential employees at his company undergo a series of about five tests — integrity, IQ, motivation, and two for personality strengths.
“Common traits in successful Bristlecone employees are a high degree of openness — (they are) open minded — critical and abstract thinking,” he said.
He looks for a broad education, such as one in the humanities, because these core studies encourage skills that result in an exceptional rate of engagement among his employees:
• Ethics and integrity
• Critical thinking
• Abstract and creative thinking
Globally, the World Economic Forum reports that employers are putting a priority on reskilling their current employees.
“Other practices, such as supporting mobility and job rotation, attracting female and foreign talent and offering apprenticeships, also scored high,” according to a Forum press release. “Hiring more short-term or virtual workers (from home or on the road via the Internet) are much less popular responses.”
Two: soft skills are needed
More career fields are needing workers who can convince, persuade and essentially, sell. Daniel Pink, J.D. is a best-selling author who writes about the changing workplace.
In a 2013 interview with a professor at Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania, Pink said that to start with, labor data in the U.S. shows that one in nine people work directly in sales.
“There are car dealers, real estate agents,” he said. “But I had an instinct about those other eight in nine and went out and did some survey research and found that those other eight in nine — these are people who are not nominally in sales — they are managers, they are project team leaders, they are teachers and art directors. That they’re spending an enormous amount of their time in what I call non-sales selling. They’re selling — they’re convincing you to make an exchange.”
The exchange is not always about money. It can be about getting attention or time or effort. He found that much of the managers’, team leaders’ and teachers’ time is spent influencing and cajoling others. The average was 40 percent of their time, with managers spending up to 70-80 percent of their time trying to convince employees to join their team or to do a task differently or persuade their own bosses of something.
Pink said in the interview that because such a large number of employees are spending so much of their time and effort in sales, they should learn effective techniques based on social science research. He has written a book, “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others.” Successful techniques include asking people engaging questions and listening more effectively. Additional concepts such as perspective-taking are also valuable strategies for people to learn.
Sales is only one of the soft skills that workers are being asked to develop.
Oliver Schinkten, Staff Author, Education and eLearning for LinkedIn and Lynda.com, wrote in a January LinkedIn article that current students need 10 skills to prepare for today’s job market. He thinks education has prepared students to be obedient workers who follow direction — but in jobs of 2017, employees need to be self-directed, innovative, adaptive and quick learners.
“After speaking with hundreds of business leaders and reading hundreds of articles, it became clear that it is time for education to change,” he wrote. “The same skills continued to be mentioned.”
The broad abilities — and sometimes overlapping skills — that he lists can be applied in many career fields:
1. Adaptive thinking, learning how to learn
2. Communication skills, including video-conferencing and social media
3. Collaborating, as opposed to competing and being independent
4. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
5. Personal management; to plan, organize, create and execute
6. Inquiry skills, ask the right questions and innovate
7. Technology skills
8. Creativity and innovation, coming up with unique solutions
9. Soft skills such as managing and working with people
10. Empathy and perspective, walking in another’s shoes
Three: rising demand in certain fields
Aerotek, a recruiting and staffing agency, posted an article on its website in January, “Five Hiring Trends to Watch in 2017.” One of the trends is a greatly expanded need for employees with cyber security skills.
“Expect employment of information security professionals to continue to see rapid growth in 2017, as businesses work to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or interfering in computer networks,” according to Aerotek.
The agency also predicts that a large millennial population will be starting to put down roots, greatly increasing the demand for new houses.
“Look for construction employers to use higher wages to poach workers from the manufacturing, energy and agriculture industries, which will then have a negative impact as their talent shortages worsen,” Aerotek wrote.
In the U.S. nursing has been a top-growing, in-demand career field for years and shows no sign of slowing.
“Healthcare support occupations and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations are projected to be the two fastest growing occupational groups during the 2014 to 2024 projections decade,” wrote the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in December 2015. “These groups are projected to contribute the most new jobs, with a combined increase of 2.3 million in employment, representing about one in four new jobs.”
One in four.
Community Health Sciences is also a versatile and growing career field. Professionals in this area will work with individuals on topics of health education such as smoking cessation and other wellness issues. They will be on teams researching biological and behavioral aspects of health, and also do work on environmental and social factors affecting wellness in specific populations.
Adding to the fields above, additional health-related industries are expanding due to the passage in December of the 21st Century Cures Act (CURES).
“The bill provides for $4.8 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health; of that, $1.8 billion is reserved for the ‘cancer moonshot’ launched by Vice President Biden to accelerate research in that field,” wrote Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post. “Another $1.6 billion is earmarked for brain diseases including Alzheimer’s. Also included are $500 million in new funding for the Food and Drug Administration and $1 billion in grants to help states deal with opioid abuse.”
The bill may lead to hiring in health-related industries, including developing medical devices and in laboratories, Aerotek wrote.
Geographical areas may also see great demand for those in specific occupations. In Nevada, there is an increasing need for electrical technicians and HVAC/R technicians because of the large manufacturing and server storage facilities locating there. Also, more retail pharmacies are staying open 24/7 and are needing an increasing number of pharmacy technicians.
Globally, the Forum predicts occupational growth in the areas of architecture, engineering, computers and mathematics. The organization noted that these areas are not typically ones that are most popular with women, and so they may experience more job losses than males. The Forum also surveyed employers worldwide to find new and emerging specific job categories that would experience growth.
“Two job types stand out due to the frequency and consistency with which they were mentioned across practically all industries and geographies,” the Forum wrote. “The first are data analysts, which companies expect will help them make sense of the torrent of data generated by the technological disruptions referenced above. The second are specialized sales representatives, as practically every industry will need to become skilled in commercializing and explaining their offerings to clients.”
Four: technology skills and programming machinery
Robots and smart machinery are being developed that will replace some of the repetitive tasks workers perform. Employees now need to gain more skills in keeping the machinery running smoothly, and in programming robots.
More automation and robotics increases productivity for companies without increasing labor costs.
At a 2011 trade show in Chicago, Factory Automation Systems offered training to attendees in just how much automation can save in variable costs, according to John Markoff’s New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning article, “Skilled Work, Without the Worker.”
“In one example, a robotic manufacturing system initially cost $250,000 and replaced two machine operators, each earning $50,000 a year,” Markoff wrote. “Over the 15-year life of the system, the machines yielded $3.5 million in labor and productivity savings.”
These are straightforward numbers for industry and cannot be ignored.
Plants can run 24 hours a day, every day, and robotic machinery can do the work faster and more precisely than human hands. They can lift greater weights and run without traffic jams when operating in warehouses. Human workers will be spared repetitive motions and experience fewer injuries. Many of the machines operate behind protective glass.
That will leave employees to do other tasks, such as ones that involve the need for tactile input, or touch, to change the direction or placement of a piece. They will also be needed for work while moving in unpredictable or changing environments, such as construction. Also, if there are many versions of a product, humans are efficient in changing, whereas a machine would need to be reprogrammed, which is more time-intensive.
Most of all, workers will need to watch over, maintain and reprogram robots and other expensive equipment. That will require more technically-specialized training than in the past.
“Moreover, robotic executives argue that even though blue-collar jobs will be lost, more efficient manufacturing will create skilled jobs in designing, operating and servicing the assembly lines, as well as significant numbers of other kinds of jobs in the communities where factories are,” Markoff wrote.
Finally, the American workplace is shifting away from the separation of work day and personal time. Work responsibilities are migrating into personal life and personal tasks are being done while at work.
Five: increased blurring of the lines between professional and personal life
In journalism, reporters are now expected to develop a following on social media in addition to the traditional aspects of being a journalist; accuracy, impartiality and thorough reporting.
Employees at companies such as Amazon are expected to answer work emails after midnight, according to the New York Times. The emails are followed by texts asking why the email wasn’t answered.
In Silicon Valley, a number of startups use online collaboration apps such as Slack, (Slack Technologies), so that work teams can collaborate anywhere at any time, via their cell phones.
And there is growing pressure for co-workers to interact more socially and become closer friends.
“I recently had dinner with a CEO of a fast-growing startup,” wrote Ben Casnocha, entrepreneur, investor and author, on LinkedIn. “He told me that he wants his employees to have deep, emotional relationships with each other, which often means becoming great friends outside of work. He wants his employees going to each other’s weddings. He wants to blur the lines that normally separate ‘colleague’ and ‘personal friend.’”
The CEO also schedules team activities outside of work time such as going out for a beer together at the end of the day, or going for a hike on the weekend.
This forced mixing may not succeed at all workplaces. Alternatively, at the workplaces where sharing a pint or hiking outdoors together has encouraged co-workers to form deeper bonds, it may indeed increase productivity.
“Friendship groups performed significantly better than acquaintance groups on both decision-making and motor tasks because of a greater degree of group commitment and cooperation,” according to a research study by Karen A. Jehn and Priti Pradhan Shah.
At the end of the work day, perhaps a friend’s support and kinship will help workers better adapt to the seismic changes in their duties, assignments and responsibilities for 2017.
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