Upskilling for 21st Century Demand


Mudiaga Aluya

Man’s insatiable quest for expanding the frontier of knowledge has led them into making history from generation to generation. Several inventions have shaped history over the years. From agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. This metamorphosis transcends technological, socioeconomic and cultural as the tools for work and working environment and jobs are increasingly changing with time.

Beaming with prospects was the mood as we entered the 21st century. The stakes were as high as the challenges it offers. The nature of jobs and workplace changed dramatically. The talk about big data, Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Everything (IoE), Artificial intelligence (AI), Smart cities, robotics, machine language, and coding etc contributed to this trend.

According to McKinsey’s research, “60 percent of occupations have at least 30percent of constituent work activities that could be automated”. This was corroborated in 2013 by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne that “47 percent of workers in the United State had jobs at high risk of being lost to automation”.

Aside automation, gig economy (fissured work) is another threat.
Also,, noted that a gig economy is a free market system in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short term engagements. This argument was further deepened by Intuit which predicted that by 2020, “40 percent of Americans or more than 50 million will be independent workers- free lancers, contractors and temporary employee”. This shows that multinationals and corporations will outsource their services to maximise profits.

Also, the dramatic changes in work place. People can now work remotely. There is technological transformation where we collaborate in schools, businesses, industries and health care without physical contacts. Working will be using smart devices to interact instantly in various ways across the globe. From digitalised classrooms; enabling collaboration in classrooms to Augmented Reality (AR) assisted surgeons who save lives.

Technology has transformed work place and our lives, making us more efficient and productive. Office space has become virtual. Boardrooms have been transformed into video real time online conferencing; work place gradually becoming virtual.

Suffice to say then, the need for you to scale up your skills in order to position yourself for this dramatic changing world. To be relevant and compete favourably in this type of world, you must have the combination of the following skills that can set you aside.

1. Mental Elasticity and Complex Problem Solving – 21st century is faced with complex challenges which include climate change, quality healthcare, poverty, education, terrorism etc. These require deep thinking in solving. It will take those who have flexible brain capacity to solve them. One is not born with it. This is acquired through constant practice. The more you solve complex issue, the more you increase your capacity. Look for problem break it down (chunks), improvise, and shift strategies to meet different types of challenges.

2. Critical Thinking – This is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. This enables one to understand the logical connections between ideas. Making one to arrive at solutions to complex problems at shorter time. This will make you a great resource as it makes you a better strategic and more effective decisions based on the evidence before them.

3. Creativity – The act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality is known as creativity. This is done by finding hidden patterns, connects seemingly unrelated phenomena and form solutions. Creative people invent, imagine, problem-solving, create and communicate in fresh, new ways. Thinking outside the box will stand you out in any profession.

4. Collaboration and People Skills – We all need one another to achieve set goals; be it personal or organizational. Individuals with this skill will achieve more and at lesser time compared to those who do not. Having it copiously will enable you predict behavior, relate with others and socialize easily.

This skill is manifested through;
➢ being an active listener
➢ project a positive attitude
➢ communicating lucidly
➢ being a team player
➢ taking responsibility for actions

Also ability to communicate in international languages will be an asset for those who will be relevant in the future. These languages include; French, German, Chinese and Spanish.

5. Cut-Crossing Knowledge – Since complex problem is an interrelated (webbed) construct, solving it will require interdisciplinary knowledge. As noted earlier, 21st Century problems will require individuals with vast knowledge of many fields in solving them. Employers would rather employ one who has interdisciplinary knowledge than a narrow knowledge employee.

6. STEM/STEAM and SMAC – Science Technology Engineering (Arts) and Mathematics alone does not transcend into business success in 21st century. Knowledge based economy is enhanced through STEM/STEAM and SMAC. SMAC means Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud.
Social – Social media platforms such as Twitters, Facebooks, Instagram, and Snapchat provides greater reach of businesses to targeted markets.

Mobile – Connected devices and wearable devices that rely on sensors to generate and transmit data. These are the basis for new business models and new services offered to customers.

Analytics – Data Analytics allows businesses to understand how, when and where people consume certain goods and services. Analytics helps business to strategize in order to predict their competitors and consumers alike.

Cloud – This is used as a metaphor for the internet where different services including servers, storage, and applications. This is what high tech companies like Alibaba, Amazon, Google, Uber etc are using to render their services. STE(A)M and SMAC skill is a veritable tool in netting a high earning job even in the competitive and saturated job market.

Though 21st century might bring seemingly insurmountable challenges, it also offers opportunity by individuals to sharpen his/her skills, confronting it headlong bringing prosperity to oneself, nation and the world at large. These skills are essential to be able to live and function optimally in the job and work environment.

Though, the learning curve might not be smooth, but don’t be afraid to try new things. You will make some mistakes; count it all joy, because it is all part of life-long learning. Keep learning and acquire them.

Aluya, a public policy analyst wrote from Lagos