Part 7: It’s All about Skills

What a crazy week it has been.  I was honored with an invite to attend the White House Pledge to America’s Workers event last week in response to IPC’s commitment to provide more than one million job opportunities to the U.S. workforce over the next five years.

Because the skills gap is a critical issue worldwide, IPC is also researching ways to see if can we make the same kind of pledge in Europe in 2019.  The primary way IPC will be supporting our European members is by providing training g opportunities to individuals, which leads me right into today’s topic on skills and continuous learning.

We continue to hear fearful prognostications about artificial intelligence (AI), robots and other ways in which we will be replaced in the workplace[i].  A November 2017 McKinsey study estimates that by 2030, 50% of current work activities are automatable by already tested technologies.[ii]  Whether your job is eliminated due to automation, a merger, or something like corporate restructuring, when you are out of work…it is one of the worst feelings in the world.  But we are not helpless beings.  We can prepare for what might be considered the inevitable.  At some point, you either needed to find a job or you will need to find a job.  So, what to do?

The U.S. Labor Department reported recently[iii] that there are 6.66 million jobs available, but only around 6.56 million people unemployed.  At first blush this number should bother those who are mathematically inclined – why do we have unemployment at all?  The answer is SKILLS.  For some time now, the electronics industry has struggled to find individuals with the right skills and the issue continues today.

Let me discuss two specific ways in which individuals can avoid long-term unemployment: stackable training systems and continual learning.

Stackable Training Systems

Let’s talk about something that training systems ought to do. First, if you have lost your job, it is likely that you had some skills that you either brought to the workplace or developed at the workplace.  When you lose a job, those skills are still yours – this is good and somewhat obvious.  Well, not all those skills are going to be relevant to the new position you are looking to win or were just hired to do.  Here’s what should happen in a more perfect training world.

The ‘new’ position should have the proper required skills identified and noted.  Individuals should have their set of skills easily identified.  Now the tricky part – verification.  Often in a job interview, this is done in an ad hoc method – a few questions asked, or prior experience examples are cited.  Ideally, an individual’s skills will have been validated by a third-party certification system.  There are some industries that have caught on to this vision.  For example, Information Technology (IT) has Microsoft or Cisco certifications that represent skills being obtained,  and the accounting profession has its Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification.  Other industries could take advantage of this kind of certification perhaps even at a more granular level, such as certification for tools (my high school student informed me that he was Microsoft Certified in Word and Power Point) or specific skills (writing, typing, programming, etc.).

Figure 1: Stackable Credentials[iv]

In striving to learn a new job, ‘trainees’ should not have to go through the whole set of courses if they have expertise in some of those areas scheduled to be taught.  A preliminary assessment or validation could cut down the training time and repetitiveness of redundant courses – a win for just about everyone involved.  Take the skills you have and add the skills you need and Voila! the short track to a new career. (For more on Stackable Credentials look here.[v])

Continual Learning

Several studies state that the jobs of the future, even the very near future, are not even thought of at this time.  If that is the case, how can we possibly train for a job we can’t even describe?  There is a way to prepare for the unknown.  We must develop the aptitude and the attitude to change.  We must consistently be adding skills.

Let’s say you became an accountant because you were good at math and comfortable with numbers.  Whether it’s business math, calculus, or differential equations – you’re good with numbers. Then you, for whatever reason, lose your job – let’s say that all accounting in the world is now improbably done by AI systems.  If, while you were in your prior job, you continued to develop the artistic bent you have always had but shoved into a little box as you prepared for a STEM career, you might be in better shape than you imagine.  By combining your mathematical prowess with your eye for color, shapes, perspective, etc. you could find new career paths as an architect or graphic designer or whatever new position is created.

Skills are the fundamental building block of every job – known or unknown.

I know these blogs only scratch the surface, but join me next week when we will explore some ideas on handling the information overload we discussed in Part 4 of The Workforce Conundrum.


[i] https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/06/26/congres_ai_hearing/

[ii] https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/will-robots-take-your-job-humans-ignore-coming-ai-revolution-ncna845366

[iii] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/07/open-jobs-outnumber-us-unemployed-for-3rd-straight-month.html

[iv] https://sites.austincc.edu/npo/stackable-credentials/

[v] https://www.doleta.gov/taaccct/pdf/presenters/McCarthy.pdf

[vi] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-reasons-why-continuous-learning-important-amit-nagpal/

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