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Fourth Industrial Revolution: The skills needed for the future

Sally Caughey, UK Head of Digital Inclusion at Capgemini

Digitalisation is changing the skills people need for work. New digital tools continue to materialise for completing traditional workplace tasks, and technology-led job opportunities are on the rise – from cloud computing specialist to digital marketing and data analyst roles.

We need to prepare today’s students for the world of work they will enter, while ensuring those already in the workforce have the skills needed for the future. The world of technology is famous for its faced-paced, innovative nature. How can we best prepare tomorrow’s workers today?

What’s the challenge?

In the next 10-20 years, 90% of jobs will require some form of digital skill in order to apply for or obtain a position. It’s often assumed that millennials and Gen Z have the skills needed; they’ve been surrounded by technology since a young age. But the skills that students use in their social lives often differ to those required at work. The future of individuals already in employment must also be considered: looking across today’s workforce, around 11.8 million people (36% of the UK’s workforce) currently lack the essential digital skills needed for work, and employees will require support to continue learning new technologies as the digital world evolves.

Focusing on individuals currently in education, the challenge facing teachers is knowing which digital skills need to be taught to set up students for success. But this is a question that many businesses have not yet answered for themselves. According to a recent report from the Professional & Business Services Council (PBSC) and the Financial Services Skills Commission, there’s an apparent lack of future skills forecasting. Few of the employers that PBSC spoke with have undertaken genuine strategic workforce planning or are thinking about their skills needs beyond 1-2 years in the future. There’s therefore a role for business to help better signpost to educators what digital skills are needed for the future.

Why does this matter?

While finding a job will, of course, always be about more than digital skills, having tech abilities will unlock more employment opportunities. Basic digital skills are already crucial for many roles and, especially since the recent shift to virtual working, there’s been huge growth in the number of positions available for those with advanced skillsets, such as software developers and engineers. Since 2014, there’s been a 320% increase in the number of vacancies seeking Microsoft C# language skills within the legal services sector, and a 1,000% increase in demand for Python within the accounting and auditing industry. These figures underline how the job market is evolving.

Moreover, digital skills offer the option to not only find a job, but to find a meaningful job. For those interested in technology, having the right skillset can create the opportunity to work in a field that supports communities to tackle climate change or address health challenges. For example, individuals could work on projects similar to Sogeti Sweden’s Geo Satellite Intelligence solution. The offering unites artificial intelligence, satellite imagery and advanced algorithms to produce detailed maps visualising the progression of spruce bark beetles, which destroy large forestry areas every year. The solution enables quick management of affected trees. Alternatively, individuals could be part of initiatives such as the ‘I will always be me’ project, led by Rolls-Royce and several project partners. The project uses technology to assist those living with motor neurone disease by creating a digital voice that can be used on any assistive speech device to communicate with others.

What can be done?

There’s a need for business and educators to collaborate more closely to ensure that future job candidates have the digital skills needed for work. A digital skills shortage impacts all companies within a sector. It’s in the interest of business to, therefore, share the insights and learnings needed to prepare students and the existing workforce.

One way that companies can assist is to actively work alongside educators to help shape teaching curricula – so that the skills being taught set students up for a long and healthy career. An example of such an initiative is Capgemini’s partnership with CodeYourFuture. The nine-month training programme for those 18 years and older supports trainees to learn real word digital skills, such as coding, alongside soft skills to promote confidence for employability. As well as sponsoring places for trainees, Capgemini helps CodeYourFuture tailor the teaching curriculum based on the technology skills that the company predicts will be needed by the tech industry in the future. An important element of the initiative is that it aims to give access to digital skills training for those who would otherwise struggle to take part in education opportunities, such as refugees or others from disadvantaged backgrounds who are disconnected from the job market.

Another option for educators and companies is to collaborate by participating in multi-stakeholder initiatives designed to address digital skills shortages. Organisations such as The Digital Poverty Alliance actively seek to collaborate and exchange knowledge across industries, with the goal of helping organisations to share best practice in tackling digital poverty. Their recent Tech4Teachers project, in partnership with Intel and Barclays, aims to fund 550 laptops to teachers across the UK in support of disadvantaged communities. Equipping teachers with devices will help them support students and ultimately build digital skills among their pupils. The Careers and Enterprise Company is another example of an organisation that looks to connect business with educators to equip students with skills relevant for employment.

Looking ahead

The future of work will be heavily influenced by digital advances and the UK is already facing a digital skills shortage. Business and educators need to work together, in unison, to prepare the workforce with the skills needed for the future – so that individuals can access opportunities that interest them, and companies are able to hire the skillsets required. Strengthening open dialogue, including by sharing insights that help tailor teaching curricula, is a good place to start.

By Sally Caughey, UK Head of Digital Inclusion at Capgemini

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