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Trend 2 December Dec 2020 0646 2 December 2020

Beyond a degree: soft skills will shape the future of work

Academic qualifications and hard skills will no longer be enough says the World Economic Forum. Companies require problem-solving skills, an eye for detail and a capacity for continuous learning, even without that ‘piece of paper’

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A degree no longer guarantees a successful career. Transversal skills are now also required, and they are not necessarily certified by an academic qualification. The fact that companies like Google, Ernst & Young and IBM have recently recruited candidates without academic qualifications proves this point. And they are not alone: Apple, Starbucks and other American companies have begun to realise that they need to diversify their workforces. “When you look at people who don’t go to school and they make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people,” is the view of Laszlo Bock, former senior vice president of people operations at Google.

This is an all-important shift in response to a rapidly changing world, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. To deal with sudden shocks it takes excellent problem-solving skills and an ability to deal with complexity. Not just technical and hard skills.

According to the World Economic Forum, over the next decade more than one billion jobs will be transformed by technology. That is why many companies are creating more and more jobs in the data and AI economy, as well as in engineering, cloud computing and product development. According to the Forum’s Jobs of Tomorrow report all these skills can be learnt, even by those without college degrees.

“The future of work will not be about college degrees; it will be about job skills,” the Forum reports. “Now is our opportunity to steer those without college degrees toward successful careers and increase diversity amongst our workforce.”

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed that those who most risk losing out are workers without qualifications (in the US there was a 21% decrease in employment among workers without a high school diploma compared with 6% among workers with an academic qualification), the digital acceleration brought on by the pandemic has, on the other hand, shown that it is necessary to open up the world to people with holistic job skills and a capacity for learning that go beyond an academic qualification.

The future of work will not be about college degrees; it will be about job skills.

“The future of work will not only be about hard skills; it will be about holistic job skills,” the Forum explains. “When it comes to skills, employers look for more than just task-oriented or technical skills. Companies want people with an eye for detail, creative problem-solving skills, a collaborative mindset and an ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity. These too are skills that can be learnt, often through apprenticeship programmes.”

As the lines blur between conventional business roles and technology functions, “there is a coming together of digital and human tasks best tackled by people with a broader, more holistic mindset,” the Forum assures. They continue “we have seen this pan out in the context of talent with liberal arts backgrounds. Often viewed as generalists, compared to hires with technical or STEM backgrounds, their breadth of exposure often gives them a distinct advantage. Those qualified in the liberal arts are also attuned to learning many new and disparate topics – another plus in an age that demands lifelong learning.”

An academic background can mean a lot then, but it is not all you need for a career. And the education sector seems to be moving in this direction.

For instance, Google has launched a number of online courses lasting between three and six months aimed at helping people find jobs. It is not a new university but a training course catering for the digital world. Google career certificates cover the whole online world from data analysts to Ux designers and specialist IT support skills. Back in June, Microsoft launched its Global Skills Initiative to help all those Americans affected by the pandemic, providing them with the digital skills for in-demand jobs.

“If we shift our focus from degrees to skills, we’ll enable a bigger workforce that represents the diversity of our populations, and will help close the all too familiar opportunity and employment gaps,” the World Economic Forum explains. “This will mean transitioning to always-on skills-based education and employment infrastructure that embraces not just credentials and certification but fitness-for-job and employment as outcomes.”

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