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Future skills and the fourth industrial revolution

24 Apr 2019 By Ravin Jesuthasan

The way we think about education needs to adapt to keep up with advances in technology, argues Ravin Jesuthasan

The education and learning systems of today have helped empower the expansion of the middle class across a number of developed and developing economies. But they lack the features to achieve the scale and speed needed in the new world of work. In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by swift and unexpected change across economies and labour markets, a new shared vision for talent is needed to ensure current and future social mobility.

An inefficient labour market

Learning and employment ecosystems are currently built for a world of work that is no longer a reality. They are premised on the assumption of linear careers largely using a traditional life model of ‘learn, do, retire’ that was an outgrowth of the second industrial revolution. 

This outdated model is too rigid for the current and future needs of the labour market. Large-scale changes to job and skill demand in the fourth industrial revolution are bringing fresh challenges to an already struggling system for identifying job-fit and matching individuals to opportunities. For example, by 2022, the core skills required to perform most roles will, on average, change by 42 per cent, according to the World Economic Forum.

According to a report published in March by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), close to 1.5 million people in England are at high risk of having a significant portion of their work substituted by automation. The ONS analysed the jobs of 20 million people in 2017 and found 7.4 per cent of these were at high risk of being impacted by automation.

Shifting to a skills-based system

As automation and work converge, skills gaps are set to change at an even faster pace and at a greater volume – leading to both talent shortages and job redundancies. To remain relevant and employable, workers are faced with the need to re-evaluate and update their skillsets; companies face a pressing need for innovative talent sourcing, matching and development strategies; and the education sector is facing mounting pressure to re-envision the very essence of its delivery model and how it upskills and reskills talent.

Shifting to a system where skills are the core currency of the labour market has the potential to tackle existing inefficiencies in job-fit between employers and employees, help prepare for a near-future of greater volatility in the labour market and enhance opportunity, prosperity and equality for workers. 

Such a shift would no doubt be challenging, requiring collaboration and coordination across multiple stakeholders. However, its potential returns are vast, for individuals, for business and for economies.

A shared vision for talent

The need for such a system is becoming more urgent as the labour market demands both more digital and more ‘human’ skills in the midst of technological evolution. Understanding and meeting emerging skills demand and empowering individuals to learn, unlearn and relearn skills will need to form the basis of a new learning and working ecosystem – a shared vision for talent. The broad change that will be required in this new world of learning and work is to move away from traditional, front-loaded accreditation and siloed certificates to a system of lifelong learning infused with a shared set of skills-based indicators at its core.

Such a system demands a common currency – one that can recognise, certify, reward and enhance skills, and create a common framework among individuals and national, sectoral and workplace actors. For individuals, it holds the promise of professional fulfilment and the opportunity for continued relevance in the world of work. Companies can expect to see efficiencies in sourcing and managing talent, while governments can expect more efficient labour markets, combined with the ability to more precisely provide education, retraining and income security support to those who need it.

Ravin Jesuthasan is a managing director at Willis Towers Watson

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