The future of work is a hot topic, and for good reason. In every era, our careers, organizations, and industries are shaped around the technology of the day. Today, emerging and converging technologies are evolving faster than ever before, casting the future of work as uncertain and to some, cause for concern. 

More than a century ago, innovations such as electrification and assembly lines ushered in the age of mass production. Assembly lines, like those pioneered by the Ford Motor Company, made it possible for us to produce huge quantities of standardized products, very quickly and affordably. 

It may seem obvious today, but this transition from individuals completing entire projects to having them complete discrete individual steps, changed the world. This efficiency, combined with emerging scientific management models enabled us to reach unprecedented production levels. This leap in productivity also drove unprecedented prosperity, and the cast the die for much of our current career trajectories and employer-employee relationships. 

The combination of electrification, mass production, and scientific management was enough to usher in a golden age of prosperity. Similarly, today’s emerging technologies and digital transformation are driving a new era of innovation and the creation of massive wealth. As with previous industrial revolutions, these sweeping changes will extend to every organization and industry. The difference is that this time it’s reaching further, and happening more quickly than ever before. 

As we hurtle toward this era, often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the information age that began around 1969 is fading fast as a new era of digital transformation takes hold. The difference is that this revolution features the fastest rate of change we’ve seen and — yet today is the slowest rate of change we will ever see. That’s because every generation of technological innovation accelerates the next. Because the Fourth Industrial Revolution is built on the technology foundations of what’s come before, we can expect unprecedented changes that include entirely new capabilities for people and machines. This fourth revolution will likely mean more profound global changes to our careers than any before. Here are six of the most important skills we can develop to succeed in the next era: 

An era of uncertainty

Along with the excitement and potential of this era, we’re experiencing widespread anxiety and uncertainty. Is my job safe? How will digital transformation affect my career? Will robots take control of future jobs? What subjects should my children study in school? Is a four-year degree relevant in this era of rapid transformation? In truth, none of us can predict the future, but we certainly can prepare for it.

The Career Skills you Need in the Future of Work

Networking and Personal Branding

Transitioning from one job to another will become the most important skill in the new economy, according to Laetitia Vitaud who writes and speaks on the future of work. Vitaud describes jobs in the mass production economies as “bundles” which included benefits like a salary, pension, healthcare and creditworthiness. The work itself — performing the same task day in and day out on an assembly line — was neither challenging nor professionally enriching, but for most employees, this bundle, along with the promise of lifetime job security, was sufficient compensation. 

What happens as corporate lifespans become shorter and humans live longer? It’s likely that members of the Baby Boom generation will have more than 12 jobs in their lifetimes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and that number is expected to increase dramatically. For that reason, jobs are becoming unbundled in the new gig economy and the ability to build your personal profile and move easily from job to job will be the most important skill, according to Vitaud. Career agency and mobility — including personal branding, quantifying our career achievements, and self-promotion — will rapidly converge into a core skill that’s critical to survival in the future of work. 

“The idea of a profession evolving with new tools and technology is more realistic than a scenario in which a new job comes along and it eliminates an old job. It’s not that simple. It’s much messier than that; it’s much blurrier. So we should just assume that our jobs will get redefined again, and again.” — Futurist Thomas Frey

Lifelong Learning & Unlearning

Another critical skill in the future of work is the ability to quickly acquire and demonstrate new skills. They may be broad skills, such as complex problem solving, leadership and critical thinking, or technical skills such as coding and data analysis. In our world of digital transformation and gig economies, the responsibility to maintain relevant skills set is moving quickly to individuals rather than organizations.

We can also expect an increased focus on transferable skills that workers can carry from job to job, no matter what role or industry they are in. Whether the employment is full-time, part-time or contract, employers want to see evidence of transferable skills and how they have been applied.

The ability to quickly demonstrate new skills also will become increasingly important for employees seeking agency and mobility in the new digital economy. Candidates with a track record of continuous self-learning and how those skills have helped achieve growth and bottom-line results can stand out from the crowd. 

Understanding Exponential Technologies

Why is understanding exponential technologies — those that double in performance or drop by 50% in cost each year — so important to our careers? Because every organization and institution organizes around the technology of its time. Workplaces of the second industrial revolution of the late 1800s and early 1900s revolved around electrification and the global adoption of mass production.

The introduction of electronics, information technology, and automation drove the need to create new skillsets, job roles and reimagine our workplaces to take advantage of current game-changing technology. That’s happening again as the Fourth Industrial Revolution forces us to reimagine our current career roles, but this time the pace of change is much faster and more pervasive. 

Understanding Data 

Understanding the creation, collection, management, and analysis of data is no longer the exclusive province of data scientists and analysts. Today, when many organizations consider data to be their most valuable resource, every member of a data-driven organization is expected to have data skills. Today, people at every organizational level must understand the value of data and how to apply it to ask better questions, improve processes, gain insights and make better decisions.

Today’s largest and most valuable companies — yes, the usual suspects, including Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft — are grandmasters of all things data-related. They use it to better understand customers, make better, faster decisions, improve processes, slash costs and create breakthrough new products. Understanding the intersection of data and exponential technologies, and how each supercharges the other, is a critical skill for 2020 and beyond.  

“Because of the colliding technological and societal forces, future leaders must engage much more deeply in their continued development and the management of their careers. No longer can we sit back and rely on our skillsets for years at a time. We will need to learn as fast as the technology drives us.”  — Nick Davis, author of Future Ready

Fusion Skills

The robot invasion becomes a little easier to stomach when we look at human-machine collaborations as a potential win-win. What if humans could complement machines while machines dramatically augment human capabilities? Can humans and machines working together produce outcomes that are superior to those that could be achieved by humans or machines working alone?

That result is what authors Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson envision as the “Missing Middle” in their book, Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI. While AI and automation already are taking over tasks once reserved for humans, opportunities in the missing middle are expected to grow. Automation will displace 75 million jobs but generate 133 million new ones worldwide by 2022, according to the World Economic Forum. As current roles evolve, exciting new career opportunities will arise for humans who learn new “fusion skills” that enable them to augment their own capabilities with technology. 

The Future of Work is Here

“If we chart our course well we can navigate the changing world of work and unleash new employment opportunities and economic growth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” — Jonas Prising, CEO, ManpowerGroup 

So what types of skills are in demand, and which are becoming less valuable? Although the skills below are primarily soft skills, there seems to be a clear signal that collaborative, creative, and people management skills are coming to the fore. In other words, skills in which humans excel, and that are difficult to automate.

While humans are good at emotional intelligence and creative problem-solving, machines are better in hazardous situations, repetitive tasks, and processing massive amounts of data. The most successful organizations of the future are those who have figured out how to optimize this balance of human and machine roles for optimal outcomes. 

Top 10 Career Skills for future of work

The most successful future careers will belong to humans who don’t sit back wait for organizations to re-organize — those begin now to optimize their skills to leverage technology to be more effective and create unique value.

With apologies to William Gibson, the future of work is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. And though the paradigms are shifting rapidly, none of us need to simply wait for the future to arrive when the opportunity to build our skills and design a new future of work is here now.