PREPARING FOR THE SKILLS GAP IN THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE Tim Hudson
The evolution of the way in which organisations operate, and the world they operate in, calls for a focus shift on the skills we foster in young people and those which we develop as practitioners.
• How the workplace is evolving
• What employers need from their workforce as organisations change
• How this affects public relations practitioners and the skills they develop as individuals
The world of work is changing. Employee skills are evolving to plug organisational skills gaps created by the ways in which they need to operate in the modern world.
The jobs that will be created in the future are increasingly unlike those of the past. Technology, globalisation, automation and new ways of working all contribute to the change in the required skills for employment.
It is no longer sufficient for educators to simply deliver knowledge. Modern technology means the acquisition of knowledge is a mere finger-tap away.
Individuals should foster the ability to use that knowledge effectively and develop the necessary skills to be an efficient employee in the organisation of the future.
The future workforce
Our workforce is changing. Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. They are more tech-savvy, they want to see innovation in the workplace and have a lot of confidence in rising to leadership positions faster.
33% would choose social media freedom and device flexibility over a higher salary. 53% of employees use instant messaging with co-workers. 50% of jobs could be automated within the next two decades .
For the first time, five generations – traditionalists, boomers, GenXers, GenYers and millennials – are working side by side. 94% of millennials say they want to work for a company with a higher purpose – something that’s more important to them than salary .
The way in which this evolving workforce operates is changing too.
A small start-up can have offices in three countries across several time zones, with customers in the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa and compete at the same level as a 10,000 plus employee company .
Future leaders need to be adaptable, managing global teams within a networked structure, at the same time remaining empathetic and acting as coach, as well as manager .
Knowledge worker to learning worker
In 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute published their discussion paper, Help wanted: The future of work in advanced economies. In it, they state: “Workers with the strong cognitive, communication and problem-solving abilities that are required for the most sophisticated types of work have experienced low unemployment and rising wages.”
This is in a world where 40 million workers across advanced economies are unemployed. Yet businesses in those nations say they often can’t find workers with the skills they need .
The University of Phoenix lists the top 10 skills for the successful 21st-century worker as:
2. Critical thinking
6. Productivity and accountability
8. Accessing, analysing and synthesising information
9. Global citizenship
10. Entrepreneurialism 
Whilst traditionally, these would have been considered ‘soft skills’, they are wide ranging and cross-over multiple industries, disciplines and cultures. They can be applied to a number of circumstances, from entry to board level and focus on how we work, not what we do.
Jacob Morgan outlines 7 principles of the future employee:
1. Has a flexible working environment
2. Can customise own work
3. Shares information
4. Uses new ways to communicate and collaborate
5. Can become a leader
6. Shifts from knowledge worker to learning worker
7. Learns and teaches at will 
Flexibility, communication, collaboration and leadership are clear overlaps but it is point 6 of Morgan’s principals which summarises the approach that all of us, and we as public relations practitioners, need to be taking.
Only through a commitment to continuous professional development, a desire to learn more about ourselves and a thirst for discovery of new ideas in the industry can we become the ‘learning worker’ and safeguard the profession for the future.
What can our educators do?
The education system in the UK is still focussed more on knowledge than skills. Success in formal qualifications is the key aim for the majority of institutions, and indeed the government’s national curriculum targets. And so it should be. Young people need access to a broad education and the opportunity to specialise in any given area as they progress through the system. Formal qualifications are the key to their advancement.
Educators need to supplement the traditional system with skills-based development opportunities, if our future workforce is to meet the needs of its employers. Whilst examinations will get your foot in an employer’s door, well-crafted skills will get you the job.
The Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy has reported that inadequate careers guidance in many English schools is exacerbating skills shortages. Iain Wright, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Co-Chair of the ESE Sub-Committee said: “The world of business and work is changing rapidly. There is huge choice in the career paths young people could embark upon and rapid change also means that there will be opportunities for jobs and professions in new and emerging industries. In this context, young people and their parents need the best possible and clear guidance to inform their choices and decisions” .
Inside the classroom, changes are also taking place. The freedom offered to independent schools allows them to introduce bespoke skills-based curriculum; unexamined, project-based learning focussed on fundamental learning skills which aims to help students become more effective and reflective learners . The shape of the classroom is evolving too, with the Harkness method of learning (involving students seated in a large, oval shape to discuss ideas in an encouraging, open-minded environment) being introduced from across the Atlantic .
It is not unusual to walk into a classroom now where students have brought their own mobile device in to the class to use, work from and share with.
We can we do?
As individuals, and as professionals, we need to acknowledge the evolving landscape of work, embrace the change and ready ourselves for the challenges of the future.
How knowledgeable you are in a specific area of public relations practice will become secondary to your adaptability to new technologies, your cultural awareness when operating in a follow-the-sun workflow, your flair for innovation to help you lead a young business through a rapidly changing political climate.
Just like the universities which insist on a certain level of work experience by applicants to Medicine - to develop some of the attitudes and behaviours essential to being a doctor such as conscientiousness, good communication skills, and the ability to interact  – we should look to complement our formal qualifications with skills-based learning to help plug the skills gap between the practitioners of today and the workplaces of tomorrow.
 Atos – The Future of Work
 SAP – The Future of Work
 McKinsey Global Institute – Help wanted: The future of work in advanced economies
 University of Phoenix – Top 10 skills for the successful 21st-century worker
 Forbes/Jacob Morgan - The 7 Principles Of The Future Employee
 Commons Select Committee - Inadequate careers advice is exacerbating skills gap report finds
 Cheadle Hulme School – Thinking Skills Curriculum
 Phillips Exeter Academy – The Amazing Harkness Philosophy
 Medical Schools Council - Work experience guidelines for applicants to medicine
Tim Hudson is a Chartered Public Relations Practitioner based in the North West. He has a decade’s experience in the public and private education sectors, including fundraising and community relations. Tim has been a member of the CIPR North West Committee and a regular judge for the PRide Awards.