Peter Crush, Editor-at-large and HR Journalist of the Year 2018, explores if some workplace skills face extinction and which skills will be critical for the workforce of the future.
Medical students have lost the ability to stitch wounds up, according to one prominent Imperial College professor. But it’s not just in the operating theatre where technology and changes in education mean certain practices may be rendered outdated
London’s gas lamp lighters – a group of people that used to number hundreds in the 1800s – can now literally be counted on one hand. Just five people remain employed by British Gas in the role, and if it wasn’t for English Heritage promising to keep the last 1,500 lamps lit each evening, their skills could have been lost a long time ago. But while the passage of time always sees the eradication of certain skills (when, for example, was the last time you called on the services of a mimeograph operator?) there’s a very real chance some very key skills could soon be lost forever – and some of them may be a surprise:
Oxford University’s Future of Employment report has already revealed taxi drivers have an 89 per cent chance of disappearing within a generation (blame the predicted onslaught of driverless cars). But there’s a more fundamental skill taxi drivers have, and other people are spurning, that risks going down the tubes too: memory. Encyclopedic recall is simply not something individuals feel they need when they can simply Google it. According to Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, authors of Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning: “We need to keep learning and remembering all our lives. Those that are good at learning have an advantage in life.”
A recent study showed that children today engage in 40 per cent less imaginative play than their parents did. But clinical psychologist Suzy Green says: “Imagination is a critical skill that builds confidence, resilience and personal responsibility, as well as developing a sense of judgement in order to take measured risks.” Without it, she suggests, the decision-making of future leaders could be all the poorer.
According to the Heritage Crafts Association, there are fewer than 50 scientific glassblowers currently employed in the UK (and most are approaching retirement age), while there are also just 900 thatchers. This isn’t good news: Lack of work requiring physical dexterity reflects la ack of mental dexterity too, argues Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, co-author of Cliffhanger: HR on the Precipice in the Future of Work. She adds: “Dexterity is a competency; it’s the combination of open and agile thinking and it’s something everyone needs to increase.”
It’s obvious, and in many ways logical, that most people would prefer to ask a calculator or computer than work out an equation. The impact could be severe, though: of the 702 occupations reviewed by Oxford University for its Future of Employment report, accountancy (specifically tax preparation) has a 99 per cent chance of becoming completely automated and gone forever.
What won’t we miss?
Anna Purchas, KPMG’s head of people says: “Everything will no doubt be dictated and turned into text, but will I miss it? Probably not. Will the world end? I don’t think so. I think we’re already losing our ability to write now – my arm already aches after writing a page of my own scrawl. This is one skill I don’t think we can cry over losing.”
And what new skills will be needed?
While we won’t necessarily need to remember and recall information, the future-critical skill will be interpreting data, interrogating analytics and using this to take informed decisions. Max Caldwell, principal, people & HR transformation practice at Hackett Group, says: “As organisations become more digital, a new skillset is needed –the ability to analyse and interpret data for key messages and storylines to support business decision-making.” He adds: “Building a high-impact analytics capability requires more than tools and data. New staff with new skills will be needed, such as in data science. A process for managing demand for analytics and delivering capabilities must be established.”
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