8 skills for career success in the digital age
It’s no surprise that the robots are coming. Along with the algorithms, they are redefining the workplace, which in turn is redefining our role in the workplace. With such an uncertain future ahead, it would be a brave person that picks a career path today on the basis that the path will still exist in a few years’ time.
So the question arises as to whether we should become hyper-generalists in order to be ready for anything.
The concept of being T-skilled comes to mind. It has been around a while and with each day becomes more relevant.
Think of the vertical line in the T representing job specific skills. You need these skills to do a particular job. The horizontal line represents general skills that relate to all aspects of work, including the acquisition and successful completion of jobs (aka gigs).
Talent acquirers generally want the talent to do specific things, so we cannot ignore the specific skills. But the difference between the future and the past is that these job specific skills will often be picked up at the start of the gig.
In my own experience, in years gone by, I worked for an IT services organisation that would ship me out to clients across a variety of sectors. I would arrive in the client’s reception with little of the skill they required, but I did have the skill to learn quickly and in a manner that was relevant to the gig. In essence, my colleagues and I would roam from client to client going from zero to eighty percent competent in twenty percent or less of the time needed to become genuinely expert. We weren’t totally value-free at the outset because the nature of IT makes the challenges relatively predictable as more experience was gained.
So what are the general skills that will keep us economically-relevant in the digital age? Here are eight that I believe will help you adapt to the harsh terrain of the digital age economic savanna:
Your ability to think in terms of deliverables, time and budget will enable you to take ownership of each gig. This skill benefits both pizza delivery operatives right through to Fortune 500 CEOs. If you cannot manage your own work, then resources will be required to manage you. This reduces your value proposition.
You need to understand your market value and be able to defend your financial expectation in a professional manner. Making your case requires the ability to negotiate and to understand what both parties value beyond the financials. If you lack commercial skills, you will need to pay someone to handle this for you. This ‘eats into your pie’, so to speak.
The perception of your value is much more important than your actual value. Well at least until word gets around that there is a massive discrepancy between the two. A professional brand will make potential buyers of your capability see you in a ‘value light’ rather than a cost one. Knowing you have a good brand, you have no reason to buckle when the first attempt to reduce your financial expectations is proposed.
It’s been a while since new technology escaped from the IT function. Today, many end user roles require technology skills. You will need to be comfortable engaging with ‘new’ (new to you and / or new to the market) new technology. Your ability to play with the technology in a very focused manner until you know how to harness it will be valuable. It will also accelerate your ‘time to value’. Talent acquirers pay particular importance to this metric.
Your ability to engage with other humans in a humane manner is paramount. People take a liking or disliking to people who are arrogant or disrespectful. See the world from your client’s perspective and use that empathy to hone in on what they value.
Your ability to provide a great service will increase the chances of you extending the current gig. In the digital age, service is the new sales.
In the industrial era, gigs tended to be multi-year or multi-month. Today they can extend no longer than a few hours or a few days. Your ability to swap between gigs in the course of a day or a week without melting down is important. Not only is a career for life being replaced by a life of careers, but these careers/gigs are often playing out in parallel.
Ultimately you are advised to follow the money. If your current gig type appears to be drying up, then think of what adjacent markets you might start to explore. Perhaps your IT project management skills could be applied to broader engineering gigs or even in more radically different spheres.
Creativity is where humans can outperform the robots and algorithms. So be prepared to turn your cognitive capacity into innovations that the market values. Increasingly, if creativity is not part of your skills portfolio, you are unlikely to be even considered. It’s early days on this, but don’t get lulled into believing creative people are a specialised subset of the global talent pool. In due course they will be the talent pool.
Goodbye conveyor belt
Whether we like it or not, our careers will be less surfing an upward bound conveyor belt and more akin to being a pinball. We will be bounced around by forces we cannot control. This is unsettling. But if you go with the flow, it can be great fun. Opening you up to new worlds you would not have otherwise contemplated.
The world of work is changing for sure. New entrants will adapt because they will not know any different.
Those of us who are mid-career and are hoping that the second half of our career will deliver the returns evolving from the hard yards of the first half might be disappointed. Again uncertainty is the new certainty.
Those of us who enjoy the social and economic gains of our chosen profession need to brace ourselves for the fact that the career conveyor belt on which we are riding is being dismantled beneath us.