You’re hired: identifying the skills and workforces of tomorrow

Written by: Sophie McCarthy Posted: 07/06/2021

BL73_skills illoAs technology continues its relentless march, the skills required of tomorrow’s workers are changing rapidly. So what abilities will businesses need 10 years from now? And how do they find them when many of the roles of tomorrow don’t even exist yet?

It’s a startling prediction – and one that provides business leaders and owners with a big challenge. A staggering 85% of the job roles that will exist in 2030 – less than a decade away – haven’t yet been invented (see Dell report).
The rapid advance of emerging technologies, automation and artificial intelligence are upending every aspect of business. So what does this mean for the future of the workplace? How do you recruit the staff of tomorrow when you don’t know what jobs they will do, or what skills your employees should possess?

“Our lives are being transformed, the pace of change is enormous,” says Sue Fox, CEO of HSBC Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

“Economies and industries are being reshaped and more sustainable practices are increasingly being embraced. So a new wave of digital, professional and enabling skills is needed to support our customers, and nurture progress and growth.” 

Phil Eyre, Founder of consultancy Leaders, agrees that speed is the differentiating factor here. “Specific roles are changing, but this has always been the case,” he states.

“If I cast my mind back throughout my own career in finance, some of my previous jobs don’t exist at all any more because technology has, in many ways thankfully, taken over. What’s unique today is the velocity that we’re experiencing.” 

Changing tools

Eyre adds that many of the fundamental roles themselves haven’t changed – it’s just that now, the tools that we use to carry out these functions are different from 10 or 20 years ago. 

“If you think about support office processing, a lot of that was quite labour-intensive. There was literal paperwork, with pens being used, and Telex machines. 

“All of that’s gone out the window. What remains is an intense need for speed of information flow and exceptionally strong, supportive admin teams – I’d go as far to say these are more important than ever. The change isn’t necessarily the need for the position, it’s how it’s achieved.” 

Similarly, Lois Madden, an Associate at Carey Olsen, believes the fourth industrial revolution will evoke a shift, as opposed to a complete overhaul, in roles. 

“Many people are concerned about automation resulting in job losses, but I’m more optimistic about the opportunities it might bring,” she says.

“Automation has happened in the past, and it’s actually created roles. When they brought in cash machines, for example, people feared there would be huge unemployment in terms of bank clerk jobs. But what actually happened was that the people in those positions could become salespeople for the banks.” 

She believes employees will be able to redeploy their energy when technology takes some of the heavy lifting off their desks, which could have drastic but positive results. “My hope is that if part of people’s roles become automated, they’ve then got more time and space to undertake creative thinking – out of which might come the next big thing.” 

In a similar vein, BDO Guernsey Managing Director Richard Searle believes that AI will bring about greater chances for people to focus on their own interpretation, judgement and relationship skills. 

He gives audit as an example. “Within a typical audit, you have two elements – data analytics (are the transactions representative of what’s actually happened?) and the judgement areas (which bring estimation and uncertainty). And that’s very much human-based. 

“Yes, you can support it through data, but there’s always going to be an element of interpretation needed – understanding the rules and the nuances. And I think it’s going to be a long time before AI takes over on that front, if indeed it ever can.” 

Madden agrees that there are some limitations to tech. “We have to keep front of mind the challenges that come with automation: people have a limited amount of patience when they’re being handled by a machine; and there are risks when leaving decisions to tech. 

“Take HR – there’s a huge amount of concern around discrimination when CVs and applications are being filtered by algorithms. As a result, that need for human interaction isn’t going anywhere.” 

Unrealistic expectations?

Cora Binchy, a Partner in the family office division of Stonehage Fleming, is also of the opinion that some gaps can’t be plugged by automation and AI. 

“The digital evolution is allowing us to analyse in a much timelier fashion, which means decisions are made extremely fast. There will, therefore, be an expectation that we can deliver to a very high standard and do so very, very quickly. 

“If we’re looking at, for example, buying shares, AI can step in and we can get a rapid recommendation. But if it’s a decision about how to treat a beneficiary of a trust who has an addiction problem, that requires consideration. The element of timeliness will suit certain areas of what we do, but we will always need that thought process.” 

Binchy highlights the need for acquired, as opposed to innate, attributes. “There are elements in financial services that are incredibly new – such as ethical investing – and there are roles that have been around longer than I have. 

“Look at the role of acting as a trustee – that’s a position that has existed since the Crusades. Looking after families and beneficiaries is how the Stonehage Group started and developed. It’s a role that requires experience, empathy and wisdom, all of which one develops over time.”

BL73_skills illo2With all this in mind, how should businesses approach future recruitment? And what skills should organisations be actively looking for when it comes to filling these evolving roles?  

The scale of uncertainty around new proficiencies needed for the jobs of tomorrow has led HSBC to conduct research into how best to prepare for the future of financial services – as well as workplaces in general. 

The results point to the need for technical expertise around areas such as digital and big data, as well as professional and enabling skills such as problem-solving, creativity, resilience and adopting a growth mindset.

Madden agrees with the research findings. “In terms of recruiting for the future, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are going to be absolutely key,” she says. “We are never not going to need the people who come up with ideas.

“It’s crucial that companies are open in terms of backgrounds. It’s about looking beyond degrees, certainly degrees in particular fields. The best person for a role might come from an entirely different industry and have, therefore, an entirely different perspective.”

Fox echoes this sentiment. “For us, it isn’t always about having a wealth of financial services experience. In fact, we have lots of very successful people who have joined us from entirely different sectors and thrived at the bank. 

“We look for people who are curious and have an enquiring mind, so that when a solution isn’t obvious, they’re the type of people who will search it out or develop an entirely new approach that helps both our customers and colleagues.” 

Creativity and curiosity are words that emerge time and again in discussions on the roles of the future, as is the idea of attitude over aptitude. 

Eyre adds another skill into the mix, too. “The ability to think critically is crucial. It’s nothing new, but it can be a struggle to find sometimes. 

“People who are able to interrogate what’s presented, test it, challenge it and constantly come up with better ideas and solutions, are vital to businesses, whether in technology or sales or any field. 

“These days, decisions can be really rushed – critical thinking requires time and effort, but it more than pays off.”

Eyre emphasises the importance of relatability and communication – “You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate it, you simply aren’t going to succeed.” 

She also highlights emotional intelligence, which, according to Harvard Business School, accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from their peers with similar skills and knowledge. 

Eyre passionately agrees with this. “The best leaders relate well, they build trust, and they build healthy sustainable companies, putting this over and above quick, short-term gains. 

“I’m a strong proponent of the idea that the human factor is the key to success in any organisation.” 

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