There are many reasons people feel off-kilter these days. The shifting, churning job landscape is one of them.
A number of jobs threaten to become obsolete or at least shrink in number. Other jobs will come about, but we can’t fully anticipate what they’ll be. Still, people are trying to make informed guesses about the necessary skills for future job success.
What will the jobs of the future demand?
I recently came across this article from Singularity Hub: “7 Critical Skills For the Jobs of the Future.”
First off, I’m going to highlight “effective oral and written communication.” Yes, absolutely. You need to communicate ideas effectively, explain things with clarity, and keep people interested in what you do.
Other skills (or traits) on the list are valuable too, like critical thinking, imagination, initiative, and the ability to analyze information.
One line, however, started making me uneasy. Under “agility and adaptability,” the article states:
We may have to learn skills and mindsets on demand and set aside ones that are no longer required.
To be a lifelong learner is an excellent attitude. It’s important to stay up-to-date in your field and to remain curious about the world and well-informed. Even if you aren’t an expert in a specific area, having some basic literacy in it, some understanding of the foundational principles, is beneficial. And of course, it’s important not to become too stuck or narrow in your thinking. Re-examining ideas and leaving space for doubt and reflection are an important part of growth. I don’t discourage any of that.
What makes me uneasy is the idea of reinventing oneself “on demand,” at the drop of a hat. On demand, you adopt not only a new skill, but a new mindset. What does a “new mindset” mean? How quickly, and how deeply, can you really change in a short amount of time?
Let’s not overlook the psychological effects
Workers of the future sometimes get described the way a computer would. Just keep upgrading their operating system and updating their software. If they’re low on entrepreneurship, install that program in them. They won’t crash (one hopes).
Other times, the descriptions rely on marketing terminology. To keep up and survive disruptions, people need to “rebrand” themselves. They don’t have a temperament and a developmental trajectory they’ve taken through life. They have a tagline.
Seriously, what are the psychological costs of regularly needing to reinvent yourself? People are capable of flexibility. They’re able to adapt. But they have limits too. They can’t be everything, and they can’t change everything. If the changes are dizzying, how do they cope?
What does reinvention even amount to? Again, I’m not talking about becoming a lifelong learner or reevaluating what you think or know. That’s difficult enough for most people to stick to consistently. I’m talking about the possibility of quickly changing values, uprooting yourself from communities, severing attachments, living as a floating, flickering entity with little depth. In all seriousness, we need to better understand what “adaptability” would mean to people. When they have little time to change, heal, or develop wisdom, what are they left with?
The list of skills, or traits, for jobs of the future should definitely include psychological resilience. People will need to find non-destructive ways to cope with instability and rapid changes. How to go about doing this? I’m not sure yet, but it will be critical to understand the psychological stressors and help people figure this out.