Digital Society
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Digital Society

Reflecting on your employability for a digital future

How do changing skills/society affect your future employability?

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Reflecting on the course
  3. Digital society and the future of work
  4. Your skills and employability
  5. Summary

1. Introduction

Helen Buzdugan introduces this topic on reflecting on Digital Society and employability. Transcript here.

As we’ve seen throughout our Digital Society course, technology is changing at what seems like an exponential rate. We’ve looked at how this rapid change affects our lives, including issues around interconnectedness, the Internet of Things, Smart Cities, online identity, ethics, and engagement.

In this topic you will:

  • Reflect on this Digital Society course
  • Look at how changing technology creates new types of jobs while having an impact on existing roles and job descriptions
  • Consider how technology impacts the skills you’ll need for future jobs and your employability

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2. Reflecting on the course

Image of a lit lightbulb on a wooden surface, by Free-Photos from Pixabay

At the start of this course you were asked to send a ‘time capsule’ email to yourself. Hopefully you’ve kept this safe! Find the email, open it now and spend a few minutes reflecting on what you wrote back then, answering the following questions:

  1. Was the course what you expected? Have you learned what you hoped to learn about our ‘digital society’?
  2. Did you experience any ‘WOW!’ moments or turning points during the course? Was there anything that really surprised you or radically changed the way you thought about the topic?
  3. Is there anything that you would still like to learn or experience, and how might you achieve this?

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

Share something about a topic on the course that you found interesting or surprising, and tell us why it caught your attention.

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

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Image of humanoid robot touching a virtual screen, by Computerizer from Pixabay

3: Digital society and the future of work

On this course, we have explored many facets of the way we live which have been, and continue to be, disrupted by technology, from smart cities to surveillance capitalism. One facet which will undoubtedly have a major impact on your future lives is the world of work, or the labour market. In this section, we will focus on the ways that digital technology is transforming the labour market at an ever increasing pace. We will look at:

  • New jobs springing up, existing roles being reconfigured, and some traditional jobs becoming obsolete. Can we predict what jobs will be needed in 10–20 years’ time?
  • Changes to the skillsets being sought by employers, to harness the power of technology effectively and focus on what makes us uniquely human.
  • Changes to traditional recruitment processes. How are companies harnessing the power of AI both to speed up and to improve consistency/avoid unconscious bias in the recruitment of staff? And does automating aspects of the recruitment process really reduce bias and make recruitment fairer?

✅ Poll

Read the following prompt then vote below. All responses are anonymous.

How well prepared do you feel for a career in an age of automation?

Poll: How well prepared do you feel for a career in an age of automation? Options: Very well prepared / Reasonably well prepared / Somewhat unprepared / Very unprepared. If you can’t access the poll, please add a response to this post.

AI is disrupting the job market — what will your future career look like?

If you voted that you didn’t feel very well prepared for a career in an age of automation, perhaps this was partly due to uncertainty about what jobs will be available and what skills future employers will require you to be able to demonstrate. Certainly, in the media there is much speculation about the scale of the future disruption to the job market, with a 2017 report by McKinsey Global Institute claiming that up to a third of jobs in advanced economies such as the US and Germany may disappear by 2030, while many more roles are likely to undergo significant changes. For an even quicker summary of the report, have a look at this short video:

This video has subtitles

Futurologist David Smith and Professor Lynda Gratton have produced a report which suggests 100 jobs that may exist in the future, from Virtual Clutter Organiser to Body Part Maker. But most expert predictions on what the job market will look like in the future are highly speculative and couched in maybes. This overview of the research on the impact of automation on employment from the Nigel Wright Group argues that “automation will increasingly impact the world of work during the next few years”, but that there is a great deal of uncertainty about when, how and to what extent, and other factors such as climate change will also play a major role, alongside the impact of technology.

While for now it seems that blue collar jobs are the ones most affected by automation, AI capability already exists and is being developed apace to perform a very wide range of functions, and skilled jobs in sectors such as law and healthcare are already seeing changes. In many cases, the aim of introducing AI in the work of highly skilled workers is not to replace these workers — it is often to take over the more routine aspects of the role in order to free them up to focus on the really important ‘human’ part of the job.

One example is cute-looking Moxi, a robot nurse assistant developed by Diligent Robotics in Austin, Texas, which has been designed to reduce the cognitive load of nurses and “run the approximately 30% of tasks nurses do that don’t involve interacting with patients, like running errands around the floor or dropping off specimens for analysis at a lab”.

The Pew Research Center canvassed the views of 1,896 experts, asking the following question: did they think that “networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices [would] have displaced more jobs than they [would] have created by 2025”, and they found that the results were really close: almost as many (48%) were pessimistic, believing there would be fewer jobs as a result of automation, as optimistic (52%).

Those who held a positive view argued that people would adapt and re-skill, that robots like Moxi would free us from the drudgery of the routine parts of our jobs, and crucially that:

“Many jobs require uniquely human characteristics such as empathy, creativity, judgement, or critical thinking and that jobs of this nature will never succumb to widespread automation”.

However, many commentators were less optimistic, claiming that a relatively small proportion of (mainly very high-skilled) jobs would be safe from the risk of automation and that the automation of whole swathes of lower and middle-level jobs across all sectors could lead to greater income inequalities and economic decline. Others expressed concern that technological change was now proceeding at a rate which is too fast for people to re-skill, and that our traditional education systems are failing to prepare people for this ‘brave new labour market’. One expert cited the example of his taxi driver, who had already changed jobs once due to the automation of his previous role, and faced the prospect of being displaced again by a driverless car.

Photo of Stowe Boyd, (CC) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com, bub.blicio.us.

“The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?”
Stowe Boyd — Lead researcher at Gigaom Research

(from AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs — Pew Research Center)

How can we future-proof our careers?

While it’s undoubtedly fun to predict what sorts of new jobs may be in demand in the future and which may disappear altogether, it may be more helpful to focus our attention on the skills and qualities we humans need to cultivate in order to work effectively with AI. This leads us to pose the philosophical question of what makes us uniquely human, but also to consider what we will need in practice to get the best out of the machines we are working with. Experts tend to agree that the kinds of skills which will be required in the future fall into these main areas:

  • Higher-level technical skills to build and develop new technologies
  • Higher-level social and emotional skills, such as managing people, counselling and caring
  • Higher-level cognitive skills, such as applying expertise, interpreting data and strategic decision-making
  • Artistic and creative skills, such as artisan wood turning, dancing and inventing
Image of humanoid robot with robot dog on another planet, by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

In 2011 the Institute for the Future (IFTF ) published a report called Future Work Skills 2020 which explored the key work skills people would need in ten years’ time. This report was revisited and updated in 2016 to further refine and validate the skills and competencies in the report.

The updated Future Skills Report and Infographic can be found on the Future Skills: Update + Literature Review page of the IFTF’s website.

Why not have a look and see if you agree with it. Are there any areas covered that you hadn’t previously thought about? Did anything take you by surprise?

Technology and recruitment — a force for good, or not?

Technology is not just changing what we will be doing once we are in work, it is also transforming the hiring process. We have all read stories about both famous and ordinary people losing their jobs over an ill-judged social media post many years earlier, so it is perhaps not surprising that many US recruiters check candidates’ social media in advance to avoid such expensive hiring mistakes. This article in the Financial Times describes how companies like Fama Technologies use machine learning to sift vast quantities of online content from their corporate clients’ employees and job seekers for red flags, such as instances of racism, misogyny and drug use. The article goes on to explain that in the UK, EU data protection regulations mean that companies can only collect and keep data on applicants and employees if relevant to performance. However, there is no law against just looking at a person’s publicly available profiles, and this casual look may then influence hiring decisions, even if only at a subconscious level. This practice has created a market for online reputation management companies such as BrandYourself, which claims to help individuals to avoid this problem by offering services such as online reputation risk scans, social media clean up software and dark web scans.

Is graduate recruitment all fun and games?

Gamification is one of the latest buzzwords in graduate recruitment — this involves recruiters asking candidates to play online games which reveal behaviours in order to assess factors such as motivation, personality and cultural fit. This article on the TargetJobs graduate careers website describes a new twist on these standard gamified assessments. The new tests “use virtual reality technology to create an immersive and interactive environment in which graduates experience simulated scenarios and attempt to solve problems or complete challenges”. Recruiters are motivated by a desire to create something fun and exciting to appeal to young applicants, as well as to make the recruitment process fairer and more meritocratic. In the above article, Sarah Harte, Graduate Talent Manager at law firm Taylor Wessing argues that “by using game-based assessments there is the potential to reduce adverse impact in the selection process due to the fact that game-based assessments do not focus on experience or background.”

But does AI make recruitment fairer?

Another area of recruitment which has become highly automated in large organisations is the initial screening of candidates’ applications. Many companies now use AI to screen CVs and powerful algorithms can now even pick up ‘micro-expressions’ such as blinking and frowning in recorded video interviews. Recruiters often regard using AI as an efficient and cost-effective way to conduct a very time-consuming part of the hiring process.

HR professionals are aware of the problem of ‘unconscious bias’ leading to discrimination in recruitment, highlighted in this experiment in which two identical CVs were sent to employers, but under different names, with the shocking result that ‘Adam’ received three times as many interview offers as ‘Mohamed’, even though the CVs listed exactly the same skills, qualifications and experience. However, many believe that AI screening makes recruitment not only more efficient, but also fairer, as the human issue of unconscious bias is removed from the equation. But Joanna Bryson at the University of Bath warns, in this piece in the Guardian, that using AI is not a panacea for avoiding bias in recruitment. In fact, used uncritically, it could make the situation worse.

“AI has the potential to reinforce existing biases, because unlike humans, algorithms may be unequipped to consciously counteract learned biases.” Joanna Bryson, the University of Bath

However, for companies that are committed to reducing bias in their recruitment, perhaps with the aim of improving diversity in their workforce, there are examples of where technology can help. One company, Seattle-based Textio, has developed what it describes as augmented writing software, Textio Hire. The company claims to have mined data from half a billion documents to identify gender-biased language which is likely to deter candidates from applying for jobs. The software draws on these data to help recruiters create new job adverts which avoid these biases, highlighting off-putting words and suggesting alternatives in real time.

This video has subtitles

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

Respond to any question covered in this topic, for example:

* To what extent is it possible to future-proof your career?

* To what extent can technology be considered a ‘force for good’ in recruitment? What risks and benefits might AI bring and for whom?

If you can’t see the comment box, please write a response to this post instead

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Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

4: Your skills and employability

We have explored how people may require different skillsets to be successful in the labour markets of the future. However, as now, a mixture of both ‘hard’ (technical) skills and ‘soft’ (communication, cognitive and creative) skills will be needed. You may have heard the term ‘transferable skills’. This refers to the idea that many skills can be developed in one context and then used confidently and competently in a different context. This is useful when you are a student making the leap from your studies into your first period of work experience or a graduate job, as these skills are developed in a very wide range of situations such as on your course, as well as through work experience, part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities or interests, volunteering and travelling.

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

Give an example of a skill you have developed through the Digital Society course. Single words or phrases are fine, although you’re welcome to provide more detail if you’d like.

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

The C-A-R formula for structuring examples of your skills in applications

Because of the ‘transferability’ of skills, employers often ask for examples of times when you have demonstrated the skills they require in applications and interviews. Here is our suggestion for how you can structure your examples to ensure you are clear and cover the key information:

Adapted from ‘Application Form Guide’ document by University of Manchester Careers Service at: http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/media/services/careersandemployabilitydivision/careersservice/crcpublications/startingpointseriesofhandouts/jobsearch/ApplicationFormGuide.pdf

Writing an example of a skill for a job application

Now you are familiar with examples of skills and the ‘CAR’ formula, see if you can apply your knowledge to a real job advertised by the University Careers Service. Have a look at this job advert.

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

  1. Read the job advert carefully and note the key skills and qualities the recruiter is looking for.
  2. Of the skills required, choose one that you think you demonstrated during the Digital Society course or in other areas of your life.
  3. Write your example (evidence) of a specific situation in which you demonstrated this skill, using the CAR formula described above.
If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

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5: Summary

The world of work is changing as technology starts to automate more and more manual tasks across a wide range of sectors. It’s fair to say many employers and employees are struggling to keep up with the pace of change, and are finding it a difficult to address the challenges posed by AI, automation and technology.

What can we as individuals do to future-proof our jobs and the skills that will be required? How will technology affect the future of recruitment?

Those companies and individuals that rise to the challenges posed by changing technology now will be better placed to take advantage of these changes in the future. We hope this Digital Society course has opened your eyes to the challenges and opportunities both today and moving forward into our digital future.

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Acknowledgement: We’re very grateful to Helen Buzdugan who originally wrote this post for Digital Society. We made some changes in this version; Helen’s original version is here.

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