How can we anticipate and respond to future skills needs in an uncertain world?

How can we anticipate and respond to future skills needs in an uncertain world?


Nous hosted Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologiesto discuss the changing nature of the global and Australian job markets and implications for jobs, education, hiring and reskilling. This article provides a brief summary of the key insights that arose from the discussion.

Skills are the unit of currency and they’re on the move

Most of us have jobs, create jobs, hire for jobs or are looking for jobs. However, in the job market, it is skills rather than jobs that are the unit of currency. Skills express the market’s dynamism and in today’s job market, skills are on the move.

As well as creating new jobs that didn’t exist before, emerging ‘in demand’ skills are changing the requirements of traditional roles. For example, the growing demand for data science and analytics skills is changing the way many business analysts, marketing managers, financial managers and others in traditional jobs work. There are more roles that require data science skills alongside other more traditional skills than there are roles for pure data scientists.

Diagram of project employment growth from 2016-2916

We’re in the era of hybrid jobs – jobs that involve “a bit of this and a bit of that”. We’re seeing examples like marketing/human resources, data science/operations and UX/learning. In Australia, the demand for hybrid jobs has increased 61% since 2012 and the trend is accelerating.

The hybridization of jobs mean that skills are the key to job mobility. For example, if you’re a business analyst looking to move into a more highly paid role that is in demand, you could become a cybersecurity analyst by acquiring new skills like cryptography, network security and information systems. Understanding the landscape of adjacent skills and the market demand for these skills unlocks pathways to new opportunities via reskilling.

Surviving automation means understanding job mobility

While predictions vary about the nature and scale of the impact of automation, the reality is that we’re already seeing impacts, including displacement. This is predicted to increase over the next 10 years with Burning Glass analysis indicating that a disproportionate number of displaced workers are expected to be low-income women with low skill profiles. This makes the transition to future work a significant social challenge.

Finding pathways from current to future ways of working can help us navigate this uncertain world as jobs are off-shored, automated and augmented. By using data, businesses, governments and individuals can discover how current jobs might lead or evolve into in-demand jobs of the future, and the skill pathways required to make the shift. This can inform:

  • businesses planning and transitioning their workforces
  • governments bringing skills information to citizens
  • individuals taking charge of their working lives.

Many businesses are contending with skills gaps in new and emerging functions and increasing redundancy in their traditional workforce capabilities.

A traditional response to a skills mismatch has been to hire the talent the business needs and exit the resources that no longer match priorities. However businesses are now rethinking this approach because:

  • Competition is fierce for the hottest skills and talent and there isn’t enough to go around
  • Reskilling is a priority – 74% of CEOs and 62% of CHROs believe there is a business need or responsibility to invest in retraining employees at risk of redundancy”.[1]

What if you could keep your corporate knowledge and great people, while rising to the challenges and opportunities of the future, by adding new skills to your best employees?

While Australian businesses have been reducing their investment in learning and development over the last 10 years, the emerging priority of reskilling is creating a new focus on data-driven strategic workforce planning, along with targeted, effective “next role” reskilling for employees.

Nous recently used labor market data and advanced analytics to help predict and quantify emerging skill needs in a large technical workforce, and we are seeing an increased interest in this type of approach across our client base.

This is a very different focus for traditional learning and development functions, which are themselves transforming to rise to the challenge, as well as partnering with others – including universities and newer players like General Assembly – to bridge their specific skills gaps.

How do we enable more reskilling, more often?

Adding the right new skills is the pathway to future work – but the market is continually and rapidly evolving. So how do we enable more people, more opportunities to build new and increasingly digital skills?

In many areas traditional education structures are not keeping up with the demand for specific new skills outpacing supply. But acquiring the skills that lead to in-demand jobs doesn’t always require a degree. In fact, it can be the case that an MBA is worth less than the sum of its parts. That is, the median salaries for valuable discrete skills that can be acquired through an MBA can be higher than the salary premium for the MBA itself.

Diagram of median salaries for MBA skills even without the MBA

New technologies also mean that formally acquiring some new, ‘in-demand’ skills does not need to be as expensive or slow as a traditional degree. Burning Glass identified eight skill sets – including computer programming, graphic design, marketing and data analysis – that non-technical university degree graduates can develop to double their job prospects. These skills can be learnt through a modest amount of coursework, such as a minor or online training or through an internship.

The implications of this shift for vocational and higher education providers are profound, in terms of:

  • designing courses that equip students in areas of growing demand
  • balancing the increasingly important foundational skills with fast-changing technical skills
  • exposing students to information and data about the skills that are in high demand
  • potentially unbundling degree programs into individual skills.

Job market data can provide critical insight that will enable individuals, businesses and governments to understand and get ahead of future workforce needs. As individuals, we’re keen to shape our own careers by understanding what we can do now to prepare for the future. Governments and education institutions can play a key role in creating the transparency of demand, pathways and skilling options that can enable the job mobility we need.

Job market data teamed with data-driven strategic workforce planning and “next job” learning and development  can enable businesses to secure the future skills they need and transition the workforce towards a future of valuable, productive work.

Get in touch to find out how Nous can help you prepare your workforce for the economy of the future.

Written by Penelope Cottrill during her time as a Principal at Nous. 

[1] CEB CEO 20 Pulse on the Future of Work 2018 benchmark Report