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Raf Uzar


Head of Communication & Development

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Human skills and the technological singularity

In the age of AI disruption, where should we focus our reskilling efforts to protect future job security?

By 2029, computers will have emotional intelligence and be as convincing as people.” (Ray Kurzweil)

Computer scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s prediction dovetails elegantly with the January 2023 McKinsey & Company What is the Future of Work? report which forecasts that by 2030, one in sixteen workers across the globe may have to change occupations.

Technology is changing the very essence of the skillsets required to perform certain occupations. Many types of jobs are at risk of disappearing entirely. 

In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article states that five years is now the average half-life for skills, and in some tech fields this dips even further down to two and a half years.

Furthermore, according to the World Economic Forum organisations expect a structural labour market churn of 23% of jobs in the next five years, and in the same time period businesses estimate that 44% of skills will be disrupted.

A conflux of recent reports are all pointing in one direction. Whether this is research by McKinsey & Company, the World Economic Forum, the OECD, or even the newest LinkedIn Jobs report, there is no doubt that we are on the cusp of a global shift in the way humans work. 

Foresight is not about predicting the future, it's about minimizing surprise.” (Karl Schroeder)

Uskilling to prepare for job expiration

To stay one step ahead, many companies are already rolling out and implementing upskilling programmes to give their employees a chance at success in the new reality we are facing. They wish to “minimise surprise”.

However, what is becoming increasingly clear is that due to the massive tectonic-like changes rocking our global society, upskilling alone will simply not be enough. 

The worlds of learning and development and HR need to start talking more about reskilling and cross-skilling as ways of “minimising surprise” and giving employees across the globe the greatest chance of finding employment once their current job expires. 

Reskilling and cross-skilling are not so much richer relatives to the poorer cousin of upskilling but are rather strategic imperatives that we simply cannot live without.

The difference between upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling

Let us back up a moment so we can explain these three forms of skilling. According to the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • Upskilling can be defined as “the process of learning new skills or of teaching workers new skills.”
  • Reskilling can be defined as “the process of learning new skills so you can do a different job, or of training people to do a different job.
  • Cross-skilling is “the process of learning new skills that can be transferred across different departments and fields”.

The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Where should we focus our reskilling efforts?

So where do we begin? Given the situation we’re now in, where reskilling is more critical than ever before, perhaps it is worthwhile at this point to enumerate those skills which will serve well to alleviate the shock of having to change occupations. 

The McKinsey & Company’s What is the Future of Work? report discusses the need to focus on (i) coaching; (ii) empathy; (iii) fostering cross-functional teams; (iv) and finding better ways to collaborate – all very ‘human’ strengths.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs 2023 report finds that (i) analytical thinking; (ii) creative thinking; (iii) resilience, flexibility, agility; (iv) motivation and self-awareness; (v) curiosity and life-long learning; and (vi) technological literacy will be key skills for the future.

Research conducted by LinkedIn for their Jobs on the Rise 2023 report details the 25 roles which are growing in demand. Based on these roles and the skills assigned to each, we find six which regularly co-occur. They include having skills in: (i) sales; (ii) customer relations; (iii) data analysis, (iv) (cross functional) team leadership, (v) employee relations, and (vi) digital marketing.

Some of the skills that are listed in the OECD’s Employment Outlook 2023 include: (i) data analysis; (ii) analytical skills; (iii) problem-solving; (iv) critical thinking; (v) creativity (vi) communication; and (vii) teamwork.

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” (Niels Bohr)

It is generally incumbent on anyone who writes about the future to try and predict it, although as we all know, trying to do so is a thankless task. 

Instead – in the face of an impending technological singularity and the need to imbue our workforces with all the best skills to manage the kaleidoscopic changes ahead of us – it is probably more practical to highlight which of the above-listed skills will be of most beneficial for us as individuals and organisations to invest in for our future.

The top 10 future-proof skills

There is no particular order in the list below but it is based on my experience as someone who has worked in L&D, HR, and recruitment for a good number of years. You may wish to focus your efforts on life-long learning, cross-functional team building or even data analysis as your priorities – whatever works best for you or your team.

  1. Analytical thinking/problem-solving
  2. Creative thinking
  3. Communication
  4. Resilience, flexibility, agility
  5. Collaboration/teamwork
  6. Motivation and self-awareness
  7. Curiosity and life-long learning
  8. Empathy
  9. Cross-functional team leadership
  10. Data analysis 

We will not go astray in the future (or in the present) if we focus on these ten skills to help our team grow.

Going full circle, it was futurist Ray Kurzweil who said, “What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make.” 

Interested in this topic? Read AI for the average Joe

Author Profile Picture
Raf Uzar

Head of Communication & Development

Read more from Raf Uzar

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