MIRANDA O brave new world, that has such people in’t!
PROSPERO ’Tis new to thee…

Shakespeare, The Tempest

I have been looking at some data and research in the past couple of weeks, which makes - or underlines - some (almost) obvious points about the shape of work in the future.

The research ( [http://www.questalliance.net/our-publications] - look for “Skills for Future Jobs” ) was published by Quest Alliance, a not for profit in India, reviewing the likely future skills requirements of the Indian economy.

India of course has one of the largest pools of labour in the world, and yet has grown its economy primarily by capital deepening (increasing the capital stock per labour hour worked) rather than by leveraging the potential of its vast workforce.

As automation increases it is likely to - initially at least - shrink bellwether sectors such as IT services; low-end IT jobs will disappear and be replaced by a much smaller number of higher-level opportunities. The actual future in India is harder to read; there are plenty of factors likely to make India a slow adopter of automation in manufacturing, for example.

The most solid conclusion of the research is this: skills will be important, but not just any old skill. What is required is what the report calls “holistic and interoperable” “core” skills: skills which are not tied to a specific task on a particular piece of equipment, but which are about collaboration and cross-functional working in a digital economy.

If we turn now to the dataset I was working with - the US ONet Database centred on the US Department of Labour’s SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) Codes - we may get a clue as to what these holistic and interoperable core skills look like.

(And before you ask: I can see nothing that is peculiarly US-centric in the data; personally I would like Pilots to have the same high levels of skill in Operating and Controlling no matter where they come from!)

The particular exercise I undertook was to connect TBM (The Birkman Method) career title profiles to their matching ONet SOC Codes, and then pull in the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) data from ONet. The result was - amongst other things - a heat map of KSA elements across the TBM Career Titles.

So what showed up?

The heat map indicates there are some almost universally critical KSA elements - and not surprisingly, they are primarily about thinking and understanding, communicating (including listening) and interacting with people.

Sure, there are specific technical skills associated with specific roles, but looking at the data you would assume that being able to express yourself and understand others, think critically and insightfully, and work well with others (and with a focus on the customer and her concerns) are all much more likely to fit with Quest Alliance’s “holistic and interoperable” core skills imperative than narrow technical ones.

For sure there is an almost universal need to become “digitally fluent” (able to think and act within a fully digital environment); but the actual skills required are strangely familiar. Hence the quotation from The Tempest at the head of this post: the future may look strange and wonderful, but actually…

This might be worth considering before you join the throng racing off to sign up for a course to become a Data Scientist. Yes, a knowledge of R and Python and SQL could undoubtedly be useful in the world of tomorrow; but the laurels (and the ability to keep reinventing their careers for the long haul) will likely go to the Data Scientists* who can listen, understand, communicate and collaborate.

Not least because one of the jobs current data scientists are focusing on is to teach AI systems to do most of their job for them…

* …robotics specialist, developer, technician or brain surgeon…