The world of work has transformed over the past 20 years.
Industries have been disrupted and overturned. Social media and smartphones have revolutionised the way we communicate. And jobs that didn't exist ten years ago are some of the most in-demand and well-paid out there.
There was once a time where you would train up in your twenties and be set for a steady career path until retirement. Those days are long gone.
The pace of technological change is increasing. Jobs and skills go out of date faster than ever before.
We’re entering an era where people are finding their skills irrelevant at age 40, 35...and younger. It's estimated that the 'half-life' of skill sets will soon decrease to five years. Over a thirty-year career - say age 32 to 62 - you'd need to update, refresh or completely retrain six times to stay relevant. That's a sobering thought when you compare it to how most people treat their careers and professional development.
To stay relevant and do interesting, rewarding, well-paid work, you need to be developing yourself continuously to keep up.
How did this happen? Why are things changing so fast? And what can we do about it?
The advent of the internet
Well, obviously, the internet happened!
Although the internet existed in the nineties it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that things started to ramp up.
In 1998, Google changed the face of search. In 2000, broadband arrived in the UK. For the first time, people could use the internet to answer questions and get information quickly and efficiently. Businesses realised there were opportunities to find customers and make money.
Wi-fi’s arrival allowed wireless internet access, paving the way for handheld devices. Cloud computing made it possible to store massive amounts of data for cheap.
Businesses became scalable like never before. Using the internet’s leverage, you could start a company with a few employees and become a behemoth, like Instagram did when it was bought for $1bn with only 13 employees. Industry after industry was disrupted by new digital-first companies – travel (Expedia), transportation (Uber), hotels (AirBnB), banking (Monzo). The list goes on.
New innovations and societal changes emerged, with both positive and negative effects. Social media. Smartphones. And in the not-so-distant future, voice search, virtual reality and ever-increasing levels of artificial intelligence.
New job roles and career possibilities were created by this new technological and business growth.
Jobs like programmers, digital marketers, data analysts exploded in demand. And because they were in-demand, they were well-paid - research from last year found that the average digital salary was 44% higher than the national average.
The demand has continued. The UK’s digital sector saw 2x faster job creation than the wider economy in 2017.
The traditional career path has changed in these new industries too. One recent study found that having traditional marketing experience did not matter in predicting whether someone would be a good digital marketer. What mattered most was having specific digital marketing experience. These new digital fields are so new that often nobody has much of a head-start.
Age and experience are not as important as they once were. A scary thought in many ways. But also an empowering one to know that within 3-4 years you can be considered a veteran in a completely new industry (social media for example!).
Digital infiltrates the analogue
Change has not been left to the ‘digital’ jobs. ALL jobs and industries have been transformed in this time.
Technology is now a part of all aspects of our working lives. And it's set to become even bigger, with Government predictions showing that 90% of jobs in the UK will require digital proficiency within 20 years.
The challenge is that most people aren't even aware that they lack digital skills. We think that because we use email at work and spend two hours a day on Facebook and Instagram, we’re savvy digital operators.
But the data shows we’re not keeping up. 22% of business owners in the UK believe a lack of digital skills among their employees is holding them back. Over 50% of the UK’s digital tech community highlighted a shortage of highly skilled employees.
The reality is that the digital skills gap - the ability of workers to keep up with the skills needed by businesses - is widening. More people will be left behind.
Without a strong grasp of how to leverage digital in the workplace, people will find it increasingly difficult to add value at work. Their professional development will stall and over time they’ll struggle to find well-paid work. And, eventually, maybe even any work.
The robots are coming
By some estimates, at least 30% of activities across all occupations could be automated within the next twenty years. Others suggest that nearly 50 percent of jobs will be automated in the coming years, with human workers made redundant by artificial intelligence.
These statements are overblown. Technology has been displacing jobs for over 100 years whether it’s automating farm work, reducing the need for dock workers or replacing petrol station employees with computerised pumps. Jobs and industries have disappeared, but employment has grown as technology births new industries and jobs.
What’s different in the digital age, however, is how quickly and widespread this is happening. For the first time jobs previously thought immune to automation - lawyers, doctors and even digital professions such as programmers and digital marketers – are at risk. Everyone, regardless of profession and the type of work, needs to put in the work to keep up.
Reports point towards many new jobs and industries being created over the next few decades. But to be able to take advantage of these opportunities, it means that everybody will have to continue learning and adapting by default. And if the current digital skills gap tells us anything, it’s that this is unlikely to happen.
For the majority of us, our jobs and careers are likely to change multiple times over the next 30 years and beyond. If we don’t change too, we’re likely to be out of a job. And possibly sooner than we expect.
So, what now?
The answer is straight-forward (but not necessarily easy). To keep your career safe, you do two things:
1. Refresh your skillset so it's up-to-date with the digital knowledge and skills needed today.
2. Train yourself to be a 'lifelong learner' so no matter how things change (because they will), you'll be able to change with them.
I'll do away with the doom and gloom in my next article and explain exactly how to go about doing those two things. There is hope! The internet and the growth of e-learning and training companies has meant there has never been a better or easier time to retrain, learn new skills and completely change career paths. Things are changing, but it’s possible for you to change with them.
Digital Mums have launched a new training course focused on building digital skills. If you'd like to hear more about how you can prepare for the future of work, you can find out more here.