Start the reskilling revolution without me: Future of Work trends and soft data on soft skills
As work is being redefined by automation as well as changing economy and social norms, how can technology help us stay abreast, discover, hone and document our skills, and match labor demand and supply?
Freelancers may cover the whole range from very specialized professionals to people performing commodified tasks. Outsourcing specific tasks, rather than investing in full-time employees, is a reality for many employers. In any case, going freelance means having to learn and apply skills such contract negotiation or invoicing for example, in addition to keeping up with the specifics of one's trade.
Both of these observations mean that people are (perhaps implicitly) learning new skills on the job, and applying them on an ongoing basis. While this has always been the case to some extent, the rate of change today is accelerating. At the same time, task automation means that there will be a major part of the workforce that will have to learn new skills in order to deal with new requirements in their job and "move up the stack."
The above point towards the conclusion that reskilling, or lifelong, agile learning, will be the norm in the near future. This point has been made clear by the WEF in its "reskilling revolution" initiative. Checking on where a company such as Careerbuilder currently stands in terms of the initiatives it is working on in this area and the technology it uses to get there may help assess progress.
Life-long learning, and badges for skills
The WEF highlights what it calls Transition Pathways: how workers could transition to new jobs based on overlapping skills. The obvious first step towards this would be to document the ecology of skills, and map individual worker skills. While some skills are acquired through education, and can be traced back and documented in this way, this is not always the case.
Many skills are acquired on the job, and can only be assessed by people and organizations engaged in work practices. An employment record does not tell the whole story regarding someone's skills. It's not always clear what roles entail in terms of functions and associated skills. In addition, both in traditional CVs and in the LinkedIns of the world, people assess their own skills, so they may be overselling or underselling them.
When discussing badges with Alexopoulos, we were interested in getting his views as to whether this is something he sees as being part of the employment ecosystem today. Are badges issued by organizations, used by the workforce, sought by job providers to represent skills / experience? It seems the reskilling revolution is not backed by badges at Careerbuilder -- at least not yet.
Alexopoulos admitted to not having a deep knowledge of badges, which obviously means badges are not something Careerbuilder is currently using. For Alexopoulos, the most important thing for a standardized representation to be adopted is incentives and population mechanisms.
"As a job seeker, why should I use a badge to document my skills and not a CV or Linkedin profile?" Alexopoulos said. "Actually, personally speaking, I find even LinkedIn pretty limiting in expressing my suitability for a job, and I always use a CV for that purpose. So, the real question for badges or other similar efforts is "How are you going to ensure that people will want to use your format?"
The reskilling revolution and soft data on soft skills
CVs are often criticized, even proclaimed dead, but they still are what Careerbuilder works with apparently. This may have to do with the fact that changing a business model, and technical infrastructure, that works for them won't happen unless there is traction in the market. Badges look like a match for documenting disaggregated skills, but the facilitating adoption question does not seem to have been adequately answered.
Another point made in the WEF report is that a substantial part of those in need of reskilling will have to find their own way. This may be due to employer strategy, choosing to lay off staff instead of retrain it, or personal choice moving to freelancing and/or new activities. But even for people approaching reskilling as part of a concerted effort, it may not always be straightforward for organizations to define a transition path.
Alexopoulos agreed that at organization or domain level it can be hard to see whether and to what extent one person's skills can be applied in another domain. He noted that based on his experience, people tend to believe that their skills and qualifications are suitable only for a pretty narrow range of jobs, mainly because they have no idea what other jobs really entail:
"Giving people and organizations knowledge about what jobs are really about can help them identify better their career paths and their skill evolution. At Textkernel and Careerbuilder we are currently working on a solution for this problem by utilizing a very large amount of job market data (CVs and vacancies)," Alexopoulos said.
Another aspect highlighted in the latest WEF report is the emphasis on so-called "soft skills:" Things such as analytical thinking, leadership, creativity, etc. How can those be documented and verified, considering their importance in an increasingly automated labor market? Alexopoulos agreed that soft skills are important, but notes it's quite hard to really verify and quantify them without talking to people:
"Even then, there is always room for dispute as judgments will always be vague, subjective and susceptible to bias. Consider for example the 'culture decks' of Silicon Valley companies defining what constitutes a good team player! So, even though we do have a conceptualization of soft skills in our Ontology, we are pretty careful when using this to match people to jobs," Alexopoulos said.
The takeaway? Even though reskiling and documenting soft skills will be major requirements going forward, solutions for this seem to be lagging at the moment. Granted, these are not easy problems to solve. Given their importance, however, coordinating a push towards adoption and dealing with technical issues in knowledge representation should be a priority going forward.