Core Insights: Future of Work

The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs across the globe may be displaced by the rise of machines.

And it predicts that 97 million new roles will emerge as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which is the convergence of new technologies like AI, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing and the Internet of Things into still unimagined new products, services and even industries – slowly unwinds around the world.

This dramatic change in the job market will likely be accelerated by the global pandemic and will see almost everybody on the planet working with digital technologies, AI or another emerging tech like nanotechnology. These will impact every industry and bring about roles where humans, machines and algorithms work closely together.

It will mean re-skilling existing workforces and developing new training programmes for the jobs of tomorrow, but the fourth industrial revolution is so complex and far-reaching that it appears it will take more than just learning how to code, programme mobile apps or using predictive analytics for people to succeed - it will need a new combination of skills.

We have had white and blue collar work, but in Industry 4.0 we will have ‘new collar work’. These are jobs where employees have not just the technical knowledge but also the soft skills needed to be employed in the many jobs of this emerging industrial age, such as cybersecurity analysts, cloud computing technicians or user interface designers.

And in what will be a competitive job market we have found that it is the soft skills that will be the determining factor in people finding the jobs in the fourth industrial age.

We studied 6,600 students across 10 African countries, looking at the job prospects of two cohorts taking different training at IBM, the first cohort of more than 6,000 learned technical skills over three weeks covering various subjects, including big data, mobile app building, cybersecurity, predictive analytics and data science. While a smaller group of around 60 students took a longer 14-week course learning, not just the technical skills, but also soft skills in areas like critical thinking and presentation ability.

The group on the shorter course saw around 50 per cent employed across the 10 countries and many of those flitted between unemployment and one-off projects. But those on the longer programme fared much better and were 70 per cent more successful in gaining employment. 

These people were more ‘work-ready’. They were also taught key employability skills like how to write a CV, how to work in a team and how to present themselves to managers.

When we followed up the training with interviews of the students and of hiring managers at tech companies, we found these new-collar skills were vital. The rapid rise in AI and automation as the fourth industrial revolution has taken hold has led to a global shortage of highly-skilled workers in these emerging technologies, but it is not just technical skills that tech firms need to close the skills gap, they are after softer employability skills as well.

Our research unearthed 10 skills and attributes that people will need to acquire to successfully secure a new collar job in the fourth industrial age.

1 Practical application of skills

Tech firms are looking for workers who can apply the skills they have learned rather than certificates. For example, they want to see a mobile app created by an applicant rather than a certificate saying they have done the course.

2 Portfolio of work

As well as an app, tech executives are looking for projects that have been completed, this maybe online projects or competitions that a job seeker has engaged in that showcase their skills. A profile on GitHub, StackOverflow or Kaggle will certainly help or a portfolio of work done on tech gig websites like Freelancer, Uploader or on open source communities like Linux.

3 Interest/motivation

Do you have a genuine interest in this technology? Applicants need to show their passion for the technology and that they are motivated to learn more about it. This has to be more than a job; a new-collar worker needs to be highly motivated to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of tech.

4 Research skills

Technology is rapidly evolving in the fourth industrial revolution so it is vital that workers can keep up with the latest gadgets, software, research and thinking and be able to demonstrate it.

5 Lifelong learners

The likes of Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and other tech companies want to see a commitment to continuous learning where applicants are constantly updating their skills as technology is constantly changing. Indeed, in fourth industrial age where technology is key many companies are at risk of being disrupted, so being at the cutting edge and having the most recent skills is vital for workers and firms to stay ahead.

6 International competitiveness

Workers need to realise, and as the pandemic has shown, geography is no longer an issue for employers. The internet means tech workers can come from anywhere and work from anywhere. It means job seekers are in competition with people across the world, not just in their city or country.

7 Entrepreneurial spirit

In the age of disruption, innovation and creativity are much sought-after by employers and so demonstrating an entrepreneurial mindset is key.

8 Going the extra mile

A strong work ethic and challenging yourself is needed by tech firms. They want to see total commitment and the tenacity to push yourself further to reach the end goal.

9 Validation of skills

Working on data science community websites like Kaggle and open source coding platforms like GitHub will demonstrate your skills and your usefulness to a prospective employer.

10 Proficiency in English

The UK may have left the European Union, but English has become established as the language of business and global tech firms. To succeed employees need a good grasp of English.

Competition for jobs in the fourth industrial revolution will be fierce, so it is vital to go the extra mile and show you have the passion for the new technological age.

Nowhere will this battle for talent be fiercer than in Africa, which will become home to more than a quarter of the world’s total under-25 population by 2030.

It will be the next growth spot for digital talent, but it is these new-collar skills that will define who succeeds in the fourth industrial revolution’s job race.

Further reading:

Abere, R., & Constantinides, P., (2020). "The Future of Digital Work Depends On More Than Tech Skills." MIT Sloan Management Review.

Remi Abere is the founder and CEO of social enterprise Roebi Global and a former CSR Lead for IBM Central and West Africa. She is also a guest lecturer at Warwick Business School, where she earned a Doctorate in Business Administration.

Panos Constantinides was Associate Professor of Digital Innovation at Warwick Business School. He is now Professor of Digital Innovation at the University of Manchester.

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