How to prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist

Technology is disrupting the world of business, which in turn is having a profound and immediate impact on employment.

by Rahmyn Kress


The BBC uses a statistic that 65% of future jobs have yet to be invented. Think about it? UX designer, social media manager, Uber driver, drone operator–these are just a small handful of prominent roles in today’s market that were practically uncharted a decade ago. And the question that follows: “How do we prepare for the unknown?” – is inevitable.

As a starting point, we need to remember that in 2018, digital transformation is a part of every industry – and that technology is here to stay. The thesis of the aforementioned BBC article details how the current education system is antiquated and, as it stands, fails to prepare young people for the realities of the outside world. Gone are the days where schools and colleges are there to teach people a functional job or vocation that will in-turn form a single career for the next half century of that person’s life. Instead, there’s been a paradigm shift in the way millennials and Gen Z approach their careers. Looking ahead, what will make for a successful employee is someone who is agile, fluid and able to adapt their skillset with ease. What young people need to be taught is not traditional knowledge but how to teach themselves independently.

Similarly, when the World Economic Forum polled a group of executives at leading companies on what they thought the most important job skill would be in 2020, the responses were revealing. The ability most commonly cited was complex problem solving, while critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence also made the top 10.

While certain business and academic institutions are falling behind, many are putting in place innovative programmes to prepare the next generation for success. At Indiana University, the career services team is moving away from internship programmes and towards student consulting projects. In this case, the students will work as part of a team to decode a puzzle or design projects. The result? Students acquire skills specific to that task but also “adjacent” skills, such as problem solving and inter-personal skills.

As well as teaching problem solving, in order to innovate, businesses need to allow the space and freedom for problems to arise in the first place. Thomas J Watson Sr., the founder and ex-CEO of IBM once said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” We need to learn by doing and create a work environment where employees aren’t afraid to make mistakes. If we aren’t making mistakes, we likely aren’t trying enough new things or pushing our ideas out of our comfort zone. To learn and innovate one needs to remember that a mistake is not a failure, it’s just a way of eliminating what does not work on route to what does.

It’s also crucial for industries and institutes to educate to collaborate, to ensure that the current and next generation workforce have both the tangible digital capabilities and the more lateral problem-solving skills. A 2017 report from the British Chambers of Commerce revealed that more than 75 percent of businesses face a digital skills shortage – this is why upskilling is crucial. A more digitally savvy employee will ultimately be a more productive and valuable employee. And, as an astute article I recently read published by the World Economic Forum hypothesised, a valuable employee need not be the stereotypical cookie-cutter team member: Oxbridge education, top grades, Fortune 500 company history etc. A diverse team is often the most productive, and sometimes it is the renegade employee who struggles to accept rules and the status quo who is also the most innovative.

In short, what is increasingly clear is – to survive in the future – both employees and employers will need to be much more accommodating and more collaborative. And while the job titles and descriptions may change, what remains the same is that those who succeed will be those who are open-minded, resilient and creative.