What is the future workplace going to look like?
Over the years, the workplace has changed in many ways. For example, we now see people choosing instant communication and cloud collaboration tools over email. There is far more awareness about diversity and inclusivity. A job is no longer just about the salary; career progress and continued learning are considerations. However, the most significant shift post pandemic is the move to purpose driven businesses, unleashing purpose to transform productivity and profitability.
The future workplace will be digital – whether it’s retail, agriculture or financial services. There will be faster adoption of automation and AI, meaning that workers will do well to pick up skills needed to harness these. This is backed by the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 which states that due to the adoption of technology, in-demand skills will change, and the skills gaps will be high.
We will also see the rise of several different kinds of occupations, including jobs as diverse as autonomous transport specialist, augmented reality journey builder, human-machine teaming manager and more.
What sort of skills must young professionals possess to be successful in the workplace of the future?
There is an interesting mix of skills that young professionals will need to possess to be successful in the workplace of the future. The most obvious are the tech skills needed to keep up with digital transformation.
There will be a continuous drive towards highly skilled occupations. Many of the new positions in the modern workforce favour those with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. Jobs in science, research, engineering and technology fields have been predicted to grow twice as fast as other careers (6 per cent versus 3 per cent), driven by the factors we heard earlier – the pace of infrastructure investment and digital innovation.
Next are soft skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving that have always been much sought after and will continue to be so. However, some other skills such as resilience, stress tolerance, good communication skills and flexibility will grow in importance in the future and will play a large role in determining worker success.
Finally, we will see an increase in awareness around reskilling and lifelong learning, with professionals seeking training and opportunities internally, through online learning platforms and via external consultants or workshops.
This is important as recent research by the World Economic Forum that suggests that every five years, our skills are about half as valuable as they were before. The study further goes on to say that it is crucial for professionals to assess existing skills and build new ones to get ahead of that decline in value.
How can educational institutes ensure that their students are prepared for jobs which may not even exist today?
Educational establishments, through their research and innovation activities, are at the forefront of disruptive technologies and ideally placed to anticipate the skills of the future.
They are adapting content to be flexible and aligned to the needs of non-traditional students as well as conventional graduates. Many are focusing on the creation of opportunities for lifelong learning.
Education should no longer be seen as something that stops when a person graduates from college; rather it is a lifelong process where people are constantly being educated and retooled to stay relevant in their jobs, so they are prepared for whatever the job market looks like.
Finally, educational institutions are partnering with industry to co-create offers that consider trends in the job market, skills that employers are looking for, with a focus on work-based learning such as apprenticeships and internships. For example, we launched the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) in Construction as an alternative to the traditional PhD in response to professionals wanting to continue learning through industry-led research and involving their employer as an industrial sponsor.
Also, what kind of a role do research and innovation play in shaping the world of work?
Research and innovation play a huge role influencing industry and framing the jobs of tomorrow. They also contribute to and drive forward solutions to global challenges. One example of Heriot-Watt research doing this is the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC), which aims to help companies transition away from traditional carbon fuels into low carbon infrastructures. Another is the Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC) which brings together researchers, industry and the government to revolutionise the way we develop, manage and operate smarter cities. Research and innovation are important drivers of economic growth as they spur innovation, invention and progress. They create the industries, sectors and jobs of the future.
From a Heriot-Watt perspective, what are the steps you are taking to ensure you support this transition to the future?
At Heriot-Watt, there are several steps we are taking to prepare our students for the workplace and the jobs of the future.
We will continue to introduce programmes in line with the changing demands of the marketplace. We will also continue to look for ways to make education more flexible to suit the changing profile of the average university student. For example, the university student of today may not necessarily be an 18-year-old, but a working adult who attends college part time, or may even be juggling childcare.
We are looking at new work-based learning, including apprenticeships and engineering doctorates.
Finally, our work in the research area includes significant international industry collaborations that can shape the future, transform lives and overcome industry challenges. We are already seeing evidence of the impact this can have and will work to drive this ahead.
Our Future Skills Conference at Expo 2020 at the UK Pavilion on December 8 will also bring the industry together to explore how the university’s research is shaping education, catalysing industries and framing jobs of tomorrow in response to the changing workplace – through sustainability, mobility and opportunity.