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Today's Jobs Demand Digital Skills,
but They're Changing Quickly
Ever since the dawn of the internet age, technology has been steadily advancing into every facet of our daily lives. For most people, this has taken the form of smartphones and digital assistants, as well as an increasing reliance on online services for the necessities of daily life.
In the business world, however, technology is revolutionizing processes of production, distribution and management in ways that nobody could have predicted only a few short years ago.
Major advances in big data and artificial intelligence are producing systems that are beginning to inform the strategies and long-term plans of companies across a variety of industries and forcing a wholesale change in the way many of them approach their core lines of business.
In fact, the shift has been so pronounced that experts have proclaimed that "software is eating the world". That new reality is, in turn, creating immense pressure on the global workforce to immerse themselves in the latest technology and to build the kind of skills that employers believe will power them through the 21st century.
Here's a look at what that means to today's skilled labor force, and what skills they'll need to remain competitive in a fast-moving, technology-focused business environment.
The Digital Skills of Today
The first and most obvious expression of the multi-industry drive toward digitization has been the sharp rise in demand for job candidates with some form of programming skills.
At first, the demand was confined to the information technology industry, but as the wave of new big data and analytics technologies started to spread into the worlds of finance, manufacturing, and healthcare, so did the need for employees that have the skills needed to navigate the incoming flood of new systems. The demand is so strong that a recent analysis of online job postings found that nearly half of today's high paying jobs now require coding skills, with the percentage expected to increase in the future.
The rising demand for coding skills has created a cottage industry of coding boot camps and online training programs that seek to imbue workers with the digital skills today's best jobs demand. It has gotten to the point that programming skills are seen as something of a panacea, which is already pushing the market toward an oversupply, especially in developed countries. For anecdotal evidence, one only need look to the push to teach coding skills to West Virginia's displaced coal miners as a way of reinvigorating the regional economy. At the same time, you'll also find signs of consolidation and closures in the programming sector of the eLearning industry. Taken together, it's already becoming clear that we're reaching a tipping point, where coding skills are becoming ubiquitous, and workers will need additional skills to differentiate themselves from the competition.
The Right Skills for Tomorrow
While demand for coding skills isn't going to go away anytime soon, the continued development of the technology that employers expect their workers to interact with is creating a few other types of digital skills that can help individuals stand out from their peers.
1. Machine Learning Skills
One of the biggest reasons that coding skills have been so valuable in recent years is that companies have turned towards sophisticated data mining and analytics to derive business insights and strategic advantages. The earliest forms of those systems lacked sophisticated visualization tools, leaving it up to users to build whatever functions were required, making coding skills a must.
Now, as those systems mature, they're relying more on machine learning software that can handle many of the day-to-day analytics tasks that were once left to human operators. Machine learning algorithms, however, cannot create themselves (yet). That means the next wave of skills that will be in demand are things like probability and statistics, mathematics, database administration, and signal processing. In short, tomorrow's employees will need a thorough understanding of data analysis alongside their coding skills to stay ahead of the field.
2. Robotic Process Automation Skills
Another outgrowth of the adoption of artificial intelligence and related technologies by businesses is the drive toward robotic process automation (RPA). It's the field of development that many experts expect to have the greatest impact on global business in the coming years, as routine processes start to be handled by computer systems rather than rank-and-file workers. That shift is expected to displace up to 9% of today's global workforce, making skills development key for those who don't want to find themselves on the outside looking in.
For workers, avoiding the RPA wave will come down to one simple concept: if you can't beat them, join them. That means developing skills in designing the processes that RPA systems use to complete their tasks. The good news is that many of them are add-on skills that should be easy for those with coding experience to master. They include problem-solving and analytical skills, a deep understanding (or ability to learn) existing processes within multiple industries, and expertise in one (or more) RPA frameworks such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere, or Blue Prism.
3. Cybersecurity Skills
As global businesses are becoming more reliant on digital systems in almost every part of their operations, they're also becoming far more vulnerable to disruptions from cyber attacks of all kinds. A cursory glance at the news today typically yields stories of the latest data security disaster, with company after company falling victim to data breaches and other security lapses that could threaten their very existences. That's putting an enormous premium on cybersecurity skills, not only in dedicated IT staff but also within the general workforce.
Since employees of all levels and job descriptions are now expected to regularly interact with complex digital systems, they are now sitting on the front lines of an escalating war between industry and cybercriminals that seek to steal valuable intellectual property or customer data. For workers, that means adding skills in the fields of cloud service configuration and security, risk mitigation, and identity and access management can be a valuable asset that could grant them access to the upper echelons of any company's technology operations. Best of all, it's now possible to develop such skills by acquiring targeted micro-credentials, so they're accessible to those who aren't planning on a full-fledged IT or engineering career.
Building a Brighter Future
By focusing on the acquisition of skills in the aforementioned areas, it should be possible for today's skilled workers to stay ahead of the next wave of digital disruption that is already on the way.
Through a little bit of planning and forward thinking, they can position themselves to take advantage of future business needs, often before their current or future employers are even aware of them. It's a recipe for digital success that anyone can follow, regardless of their industry and level of technical mastery – and that will keep them gainfully employed and rising through the ranks as they work toward building a future-proof career.
About the Author
Philip Piletic is closely following the impact of technology on education, and its evolution from traditional to modern methods that include e-learning, courses, gamification, and others. He helped a Sydney-based IT & Business school with developing their IT courses.