Is the future of work skills-driven?

  • July 08, 2022

Is the future of work moving away from a qualification-lead approach?

If one quality could be named ‘most desirable’ in the new, online work world, it would be this – adaptable. 

With the pandemic throwing up challenge after challenge, those who thrive in this new world won’t necessarily be those with the most qualifications, but rather those who can adapt to these new challenges the fastest. 

Qualifications don’t necessarily lead to adaptability; in fact, the opposite could be argued. Qualifications and the learning process necessary to achieve them often take a somewhat dogmatic approach to learning, which is perhaps necessarily the result of following instructions from a textbook. This isn’t always the case of course, the quality of one’s education depends almost entirely on the teachers. However, more and more, a qualification-lead approach is becoming seen as outdated. 

In addition to this, with the internet providing almost infinite learning resources either for free or for a comparatively minute fee, a university education isn’t necessarily the only, nor even the most efficient way of picking up new skills. 

Remote and part time learning, which don’t have to lead to commonly recognised qualifications, can greatly increase the skill set of any individual with internet access and the volition to further their knowledge. Employers are rapidly recognising this shift, with major employers such as Google, IBM and EY starting to think outside of the box and increasing their recruitment outreach to alternative talent pools, with the implicit realisation that the future is in a skills-driven workforce.

Another change in the work world, which has seen a steady shift over the past decades with a rapid increase in the past few years, is the move away from ‘company employees’. In the past, it was not uncommon for a worker to stay at a single firm for their whole life, right up to retirement. Now, this is practically unheard of. Most workers will have many jobs within a lifetime, sometimes simultaneously. 

The steady rise in freelance work across the board is becoming more and more attractive; although job security can be an issue, the benefits gained in flexibility and being your own boss are immense. Where it may have been incredibly difficult in the past to develop the skills and know-how to start off on your own, again with the proliferation of online resources, this is no longer a struggle at all. 

There are now 1.4 million freelancers across the sectors in the UK, and another added benefit of being a freelance worker is the following: as long as you can produce results and have a proven track record, clients will almost never ask you if you have a degree. 

This represents an incredible shift in attitude towards qualifications, making it the case that having the correct skill set is literally the only barrier to entry in many freelance job markets. With online job search tools such as Fiverr and PeoplePerHour geared around the gig economy, it is becoming increasingly easy to make a successful career outside of the traditional framework of qualifications and employers.

Preparing for a skills-driven future job market

Listed below are three ways to make yourself a more adaptable and skills-diverse employee.

1. Constantly learn

Learning is no longer something to be done as a child and young adult – to survive and thrive in the current work climate, with its constant evolution, you as an employee must keep up with the times, constantly bettering your knowledge on your subject. 

This means gaining new experiences in diverse roles, going on training courses (whether in person or online) and keeping up to date on the literature and latest developments to your respective field.

2. Broaden your knowledge

Specialists are perhaps going to become a thing of the past, or at least in the traditional sense. 

More and more companies are looking for employees with a holistic understanding of their industry, and a mindset that no problem (within reason of course) is beyond their capabilities. This allows for a more productive and creative workforce, as interdepartmental collaboration starts to flourish, and problems arising from miscommunication become less common.

3. Think outside the box

Your current skill set may be far more diversely applicable than you realise. The skills you pick up from any job or experience, which may at first seem quite niche, can be quite transferable. 

An example of this is accountants; while at first it may seem that their skill set is perfect for only one thing – managing the accounts of a company – in fact, accountants are ideal candidates to manage any kind of financial analysis. That means they could be perfectly suited to trading or a position in a hedge fund; the point is, your horizons may already be far broader than you realise, take a step back and think on what you already know, and what it could make you suitable for.

The move towards a skills-driven workforce is already taking place, and the challenges thrown up by the pandemic are rapidly accelerating that shift. 

Debates at the World Economic Forum in 2016 found that it is highly likely large swathes of the labour force will cease to be employable if dramatic changes to the educational environment are not carried out. 

Online education represents one of these changes. Employees also believe this insight to be true – a 2016 survey found a massive 87% of workers believed it was critical that they continued to train throughout their life in order to keep up with workplace changes.

Employers, as well as employees, need to adapt to the times. With more and more workers going freelance, if employers wish to maintain a steady workforce and avoid the expense and complications of constantly rehiring, they need to widen their recruitment pools and provide similar or better benefits to those available for freelance workers. 

These shifts are already happening, but to maintain a competitive advantage, both workers and employers must remain ahead of the curve or risk being left behind in an outdated era.

Photo by David Siglin on Unsplash