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3 Skills Every Employee Needs for the Workplace of the Future

To survive (and thrive in) the digital disruption, here’s what you’ll need.

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BY team-inc - 14 Jun 2018

In a blended workplace increasingly crowded with robots and other automated systems, how can employees not only survive, but thrive?

The issues around the future of work date back to the previous century. The modern corporation, born in the 1940s and 1950s, was built on ex-General Motors’ chairman Alfred E. Sloan’s belief that a large company’s most powerful enemy was internal: Complacency about market leadership, lax management controls and insufficient oversight by boards and shareholders. These problems, if allowed to fester, would doom a company.

Sloan did not envisage that a large company’s most powerful enemy could come from a small external foe. The camera feature on a mobile phone made Kodak, the one-time colossus that manufactured photographic film, obsolete in a few short years. Sloan also overlooked that the Internet could potentially drive out the marketing and distribution grids of a large corporation such as Kodak. Who needs to build a shop or network of shops when the Internet can market your product at practically zero cost?

Companies today must be aware that disruption is a constant, and no company is truly unassailable despite how entrenched they may be.

1. Advanced technical skills

Advancements in robotics and 3D printing are increasingly disrupting the manufacturing industry and replacing low-skilled labour. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, robots with enhanced senses, dexterity, and intelligence will be more practical than human labour in manufacturing and service jobs such as cleaning and maintenance.

On the flip side, these disruptions will instead drive employment growth in the architecture and engineering spaces as the need for skilled technicians becomes critical. Routine work will slowly fade into oblivion as machines take over these tasks—freeing up workers to focus on new jobs which lead to rapidly changing core skill sets. This can be beneficial to workers should they choose to learn new skills. 

To ensure workers are future-ready, the Singapore government has rolled out initiatives, such as SkillsFuture, to provide Singaporeans the means to upgrade their skill set. SkillsFuture offers programmes that employees can take in the areas of data analytics, tech-enabled services, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, and many more. The courses—which range from malware analysis to 3D fabrication techniques to systems engineering—are done in partnership with institutions, such as Nanyang Polytechnic and Singapore Management University.

In less than five years, workplaces of the future will demand a talent pool of highly skilled individuals capable of readily adapting to new technologies. SGInnovate does its part by working with universities and polytechnics to build up talent and connect them to deep tech start-ups. SGInnovate likewise supports the start-up community by hosting talks and events centred around topics ranging from AI to big data and aerospace technologies.

2. Creativity

McKinsey’s findings show that the hardest activities to automate with current technologies are creative work, along with tasks that involve managing and developing people, decision-making and planning.

Kay Vasey, founder and “chief connecting officer” of MeshMinds, thinks creavity is a skill that workers of the future must have because it is not something that robots can easily possess.

“Creativity is important in the process of innovation to ensure that the design of any new prototype, process or machine is human-centred. Without creative thinking, the computational process that drives technologies, old and new, can only ever be linear,” Vasey says.  

At MeshMinds, human creativity and technology go hand in hand. MeshMinds sees AR/VR technology as a tool to create opportunities for Asian artists to create experimental, immersive, and interactive artwork. To this end, MeshMinds trains artists on how to use AR/VR technology to create art.

For example, MeshMinds is working with a VR start-up to create a multisensory experience, Oceans We Make, that raises awareness on the amount of pollutants in the ocean.

 Workers today should play an active role in understanding how technology and collaboration with others can enhance their performance.  “This is why at MeshMinds, we are connecting artists and technologists in the real world but we are also using technology to build a virtual marketplace where they can find each other, work together and share their impactful projects and prototypes with the world,” she says.

3. Complex problem solving skills

There is  no denying that with advances in AI, robotics, and machine learning, human beings will increasingly work alongside machines. While it is true that machines can process huge amounts of data with greater accuracy, these well-defined activities will still require human beings to determine the proper goals and interpret the impact of results in real world situations. As such, the ability to think critically remains a pertinent skill one must possess.

In fact, complex problem solving ability tops the list of ten skills one needs in order to thrive in 2020, according to the Future of Jobs report. The WEF defines complex problem solving as “developed capacities used to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.” As such, the youth need to hone their analytical skills to serve as a foundation for complex problem solving.

Saturday Kids seeks to cultivate a growth mindset among children by teaching them how to analyse and solve problems like a programmer.

Prompted by Singapore’s aim to be a Smart Nation, 19 secondary schools started to offer programming as part of a new O-level subject called computing. The Straits Times reports that the new subject focuses on programming, algorithm, data management, and computer architecture. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for children to be exposed to programming at a young age as part of the Smart Nation initiative.

Instead of fearing replacement, workers of the future must embrace the possibilities of technology and move toward improving their skills today. For starters, visit the SGInnovate page to learn more about how deep technologies impact the way we live and work.

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