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Challenges in developing skills for the future

11 September 2020

Article by Ana Maria Sousa, responsible for the Advanced Training area at INEGI.

The need to update skills, whenever new technologies are introduced, has been a well-known reality. The fourth industrial revolution introduced two novelties, speed and scope, thus impacting a greater number of people, reducing the life cycle of skills and increasing the need for a permanent reinvention on the part of professionals, who risk becoming obsolete. New professions, new functions, and new demands in the labor market raise the question: how to predict the future and know what skills to invest in?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum presented, in their report "Future of Jobs”1, the key competences to successfully face the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution. The study concluded that, in 2020, the ten most important competencies would be: solving complex problems, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, decision making and discernment, service orientation, and negotiation skills and cognitive flexibility.

Now, in 2020, a new reflection is necessary and, if on the one hand we see that today all these skills are a benefit, on the other hand we can consider that the document does not list some of the skills that, in the meantime, have proved to be critical. Proof of how difficult it is, both for education and training institutions and for people and organizations in general, to identify the skills that will be of value in the future.

Technological specialization and human competences gain prominence in an increasingly digital world

Looking at the next decade, McKinsey & Company2 says that the demand for technological skills will increase by 55%, social and emotional skills by 24%, and advanced cognitive skills by 8%.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum presented the white paper "Schools of the Future - Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”3, identifying 4 major groups of skills to be developed: global citizenship skills, innovation and creativity, technological skills, and interpersonal skills.

This organization of competences in large groups allows us to identify a set of transversal categories and help to answer the challenge of competences to be developed.

Technological skills

The lack of human resources in technological areas is a reality, and demand continues to increase worldwide. The question that arises is only which ones should one to invest in.

Based on the work developed by the coordination team of the Advanced Program in Industry 4.0, promoted by INEGI and INESC TEC, we identified the following enabling technologies: additive manufacturing or 3D printing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, smart materials and smart processes, analytics and predictive algorithms, connectivity and communications, cybersecurity, augmented and virtual reality, simulation and digital twins, manufacturing execution systems, human-machine interaction, data generation and capture, systems architecture.

However, with the technological transformation accelerating increasingly, it is essential to carefully and continuously monitor emerging technologies and understand which ones will have the most impact on one’s respective industry.

Competencies for Innovation

Innovation is one of the main drivers of economic growth, depending on the ability of professionals to devise new solutions to current and future problems, and to develop new products and processes with significant value.

That is why creativity leads several lists of future competencies, as well as the ability to solve complex problems and critical thinking. The skills associated with entrepreneurship and the capacity for initiative are also increasingly valued, as well as analytical skills.

Interpersonal Skills

It is anticipated that during the next decade we will see an increase in competition between humans and robots, and in this context, interpersonal skills, more difficult to be replaced by robots, gain another relevance.

The acceleration of digital transformation thus increases the importance of skills such as emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration. And in a context of constant change, these are also fundamental: curiosity, the ability to adapt, and resilience.

Ethical decision making, the ability to adapt to unexpected situations without "training data" but based on common sense and experience, empathy and collaboration, are exclusively human skills, and of extreme value as we perceive in the current crisis.

Skills for sustainability

Social responsibility and sustainability from a social, environmental and economic perspective has been gaining relevance, and there is a demand for skills that help the transition to a sustainable world.

In this sense, acquiring knowledge, vision and critical thinking about sustainability and how to develop concrete changes to combat climate change and reduce pressure on essential resources, namely in the areas of energy, environment and circular economy, will be an advantage for professionals.

Investing in continuous learning will be essential

The next decade will certainly be a challenge in terms of work and skills training.

Competition for talent in certain segments was already fierce, and the recent growing adoption of teleworking will intensify global competitiveness, as organizations are more open to hiring people outside their geographic location.

The competition will thus be bigger, more global and with more players, and the acceleration of technological transformation will naturally accelerate the need to develop new skills.

Whether these predictions are confirmed or not, one thing is certain: adopting a spirit of curiosity, investing in continuous learning and developing a mindset of adaptation to change will always be fundamental.

bs and Skills", World Economic Forum 

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