This report analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years. It does not consider what will be the jobs of the future. Many studies have tried to predict specific job categories and labor requirements.
Consistently over the years, however, it has been shown that such predictions are difficult and many of the past predictions have been proven wrong. Rather than focusing on future jobs, this report looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings.
Six Drivers of Change
1.) Extreme longevity: Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning
It is estimated that by 2025, the number of Americans over 60 will increase by 70%. Over the next decade we will see the challenge of an aging population come to the fore. New perceptions of what it means to age, as well as the emerging possibilities for realistic, healthy life-extension, will begin take hold.
Individuals will need to rearrange their approach to their careers, family life, and education to accommodate this demographic shift. Increasingly, people will work long past 65 in order to have adequate resources for retirement. Multiple careers will be commonplace and lifelong learning to prepare for occupational change will see major growth. To take advantage of this well-experienced and still vital workforce, organizations will have to rethink the traditional career paths in organizations, creating more diversity and flexibility.
Aging individuals will increasingly demand opportunities, products, and medical services to accommodate more healthy and active senior years. As we move toward to a world of healthier lifestyles and holistic approaches to what we eat, how we work, and where we live, much of daily life—and the global economy as a whole—will be viewed through the lens of health.
2.) Rise of smart machines and systems: Workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks
We are on the cusp of a major transformation in our relationships with our tools. Over the next decade, new smart machines will enter offices, factories, and homes in numbers we have never seen before. They will become integral to production, teaching, combat, medicine, security, and virtually every domain of our lives. As these machines replace humans in some tasks, and augment them in others, their largest impact may be less obvious: their very presence among us will force us to confront important questions.
What are humans uniquely good at? What is our comparative advantage? And what is our place alongside these machines? We will have to rethink the content of our work and our work processes in response.
In some areas, a new generation of automated systems will replace humans, freeing us up to do the things we are good at and actually enjoy. In other domains, the machines will become our collaborators, augmenting our own skills and abilities. Smart machines will also establish new expectations and standards of performance. Of course, some routine jobs will be taken over by machines—this has already happened and will continue. But the real power in robotics technologies lies in their ability to augment and extend our own capabilities. We will be entering into a new kind of partnership with machines that will build on our mutual strengths, resulting in a new level of human-machine collaboration and codependence.
3.) Computational world. Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system
The diffusion of sensors, communications, and processing power into everyday objects and environments will unleash an unprecedented torrent of data and the opportunity to see patterns and design systems on a scale never before possible.
Every object, every interaction, everything we come into contact with will be converted into data. Once we decode the world around us and start seeing it through the lens of data, we will increasingly focus on manipulating the data to achieve desired outcomes. Thus we will usher in an era of “everything is programmable”—an era of thinking about the world in computational, programmable, designable terms.
The collection of enormous quantities of data will enable modeling of social systems at extreme scales, both micro and macro, helping uncover new patterns and relationships that were previously invisible. Agencies will increasingly model macro-level phenomena such as global pandemics to stop their spread across the globe. At a micro level, individuals will be able to simulate things such as their route to the office to avoid traffic congestion based on real-time traffic data. Microand macro-scale models will mesh to create models that are unprecedented in their complexity and completeness.
As a result, whether it is running a business or managing individual health, our work and personal lives will increasingly demand abilities to interact with data, see patterns in data, make data-based decisions, and use data to design for desired outcomes.
4.) New media ecology. New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text
New multimedia technologies are bringing about a transformation in the way we communicate. As technologies for video production, digital animation, augmented reality, gaming, and media editing, become ever more sophisticated and widespread, a new ecosystem will take shape around these areas. We are literally developing a new vernacular, a new language, for communication.
Already, the text-based Internet is transforming to privilege video, animation, and other more visual communication media. At the same time, virtual networks are being integrated more and more seamlessly into our environment and lives, channeling new media into our daily experience. The millions of users generating and viewing this multimedia content from their laptops and mobile devices are exerting enormous influence on culture.
New media is placing new demands on attention and cognition. It is enabling new platforms for creating online identity while at the same time requiring people to engage in activities such as online personal reputation and identity management. It is enabling new ways for groups to come together and collaborate, bringing in new levels of transparency to our work and personal lives. At the same time, our sensibility toward reality and truth is likely to be radically altered by the new media ecology. We must learn to approach content with more skepticism and the realization that what you see today may be different tomorrow. Not only are we going to have multiple interpretations of recorded events, but with ubiquitous capture and surveillance, events will be seen from multiple angles and perspectives, each possibly telling a different story of individual events.
5.) Superstructed organizations. Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation
New technologies and social media platforms are driving an unprecedented reorganization of how we produce and create value. Amplified by a new level of collective intelligence and tapping resources embedded in social connections with multitudes of others, we can now achieve the kind of scale and reach previously attainable only by very large organizations.
In other words, we can do things outside of traditional organizational boundaries. To “superstruct” means to create structures that go beyond the basic forms and processes with which we are familiar. It means to collaborate and play at extreme scales, from the micro to the massive. Learning to use new social tools to work, to invent, and to govern at these scales is what the next few decades are all about.
Our tools and technologies shape the kinds of social, economic, and political organizations we inhabit. Many organizations we are familiar with today, including educational and corporate ones, are products of centuries-old scientific knowledge and technologies. Today we see this organizational landscape being disrupted. In health, organizations such as Curetogether and PatientsLikeMe are allowing people to aggregate their personal health information to allow for clinical trials and emergence of expertise outside of traditional labs and doctors’ offices. Science games, from Foldit to GalaxyZoo, are engaging thousands of people to solve problems no single organization had the resources to do before. Open education platforms are increasingly making content available to anyone who wants to learn.
A new generation of organizational concepts and work skills is coming not from traditional management/organizational theories but from fields such as game design, neuroscience, and happiness psychology. These fields will drive the creation of new training paradigms and tools.
6.) Globally connected world. Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations
At its most basic level, globalization is the long-term trend toward greater exchanges and integration across geographic borders. In our highly globally connected and interdependent world, the United States and Europe no longer hold a mono-poly on job creation, innovation, and political power.
Organizations from resource- and infrastructure-constrained markets in developing countries like India and China are innovating at a faster pace than those from developed countries in some areas, such as mobile technologies. In fact, a lack of legacy infrastructure is combining with rapidly growing markets to fuel higher rates of growth in developing countries.
For decades, most multinational companies have used their overseas subsidiaries as sales and technical support channels for the headquarters. In the last ten years, overseas companies, particularly IT ones, outsourced everything from customer services to software development. The model, however, has stayed the same: innovation and design have been the prerogative of R&D labs in developed countries.
As markets in China, India, and other developing countries grow, it is increasingly difficult for the headquarters to develop products that can suit the needs of a whole different category of consumers.
Presence in areas where new competitors are popping up is critical to survival, but it is not enough. The key is not just to employ people in these locales but also to effectively integrate these local employees and local business processes into the infrastructure of global organizations in order to remain competitive.
Top 10 skills of the workforce of the future
What do these six disruptive forces mean for the workers of the next decade? We have identified ten skills that we believe will be critical for success in the workforce.
- Sense-making – Definition: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.
- Social intelligence – Definition: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.
- Novel & adaptive thinking – Definition: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based.
- Cross-cultural competency – Definition: ability to operate in different cultural settings.
- Computational thinking – Definition: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.
- New-media literacy – Definition: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication.
- Transdisciplinarity – Definition: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.
- Design mindset – Definition: ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes.
- Cognitive load management – Definition: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.
- Virtual collaboration – Definition: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.
To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.