Jobs of Tomorrow — How navigating COVID-19 charts a path for the future

In order to navigate the radically changed circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have had to be agile. To keep business running, they have had to move online with urgency, providing employees with the tools necessary to collaborate with peers, execute work requirements, and engage with customers remotely.

Many of the systems that companies have put in place, despite being conceived of as short-term solutions to an unexpected crisis, have the potential to be beneficial and sustainable long-term solutions. But even more than the solutions themselves, it is the capacity for agility that the current crisis has necessitated that will be a powerful tool in the economic system of tomorrow, which will most likely be even more demanding than today.

Build agility into company DNA

Many companies were unprepared for an event of the magnitude of this pandemic, and can learn lessons to ensure that, should another crisis arise, they are better prepared. Maintaining business continuity and avoiding a sharp decline in productivity has called for remote work, the implementation of which requires real corporate strategies and policies. Promoting new ways of working within a more dynamic corporate culture is key.

Practically, companies need to adopt a cloud platform with an architecture that allows for the continuity of activities without hindering performance, while staff require the technical skills necessary for resilience. Such an environment can be offered on a large scale worldwide, which further reduces the risk of work disruption.

In order to (re)launch projects at speed, it is imperative to aim to automate as many processes as possible. Thinking should not be limited only to a short-term response to an emergency; organisations are already in the COVID-19 crisis having to project into the medium or even long term. It is essential to evaluate the possibilities of local collaborations and partnerships, but also of best practices by including, as much as possible, research and innovation to identify points of optimisation.

World of work in fast forward

The world of work is already changing fast as a result of the digital revolution and technological developments, and the COVID-19 crisis will only accelerate digital transformation. Some of today’s trades will disappear tomorrow, while others will be profoundly transformed. New trades will also emerge. According to a study by Dell and the Institute for the Future, 85% of jobs envisioned in 2030 do not yet exist.

Contracts are already evolving, missions are diversifying and professions traditionally associated with tomorrow — roles in robotics, data science, and building information modelling (BIM) — are now a reality. Fields such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality are further accelerating anxieties of a fast-moving and unknown future. Employees concerned about these changes will have to prepare themselves, and companies will need to offer support through training. While technology needs the human, the future belongs to agile minds — we must learn how to learn.

The jobs of tomorrow include those in the field of big data, which has created roles such as data miners, who collect, read and analyse a large amount of data, and offer customer support, quantitative studies, and data analysis; data scientists, who value data and combine mathematical, statistical and computer skills to help companies make operational and strategic decisions; and cyber security experts, who are responsible for protecting information and combating threats of cyber attacks.

In artificial intelligence there are machine learning, or deep learning, specialists, who develop algorithms that allow machines to learn for themselves through cognitive features, and are responsible for the production of artificial intelligence models; bot trainers or beta testers, who train chatbots to respond to customers after designing algorithms from a dataset; and augmented lawyers, who strengthen their activity via an intelligent platform that can reread and verify contracts via digital means while preserving human links.

The emergence of intelligent gadgets, such as connected wristbands or industrial robots, also requires the creation of new professions. These include robot designers, who work on the design of the gadget and its programming; drone pilots, who prepare the equipment upstream, and remotely control the movement of crafts after mastering safety rules; and domotics experts, who make home automation systems by providing remote controls and programming for smart houses.

The emergence of virtual reality and 3D is changing the design and manufacture of products — or their simulation — and is creating new jobs such as 3D printers, who create unique objects to customer specification from different materials from a 3D file; virtual reality designers, who create new user experiences using 3D; virtual reality engineers, who design simulation systems and new human-machine interfaces using a stereoscopic vision headset or motion detector; and BIM managers, who use digital models to facilitate the design and coordination of the different phases of a construction site.

The development of green, or sustainable, cities, which involves combating pollution, managing waste and recycling, reducing energy consumption and boosting renewable energy, will also see the creation of new professions. These include such roles as sustainable building project managers, project managers for polluted sites and soils, carbon assessment experts, and energy efficiency engineers for buildings.

The human and the machine

But the labour market for tomorrow’s trades will not be limited to hard skills. Soft skills — also known as interpersonal, or people skills — will increasingly be valued. These include such traits as the ability to cooperate, communicate and think critically, as well as approach problems with creativity. Human resources of the future will be interested in QA (Adaptability Quotient) and QE (Emotional Quotient) tests, in addition to IQ (Intellectual Quotient) tests.

To succeed in a rapidly changing future, employees will require both hard and soft skills. But most importantly they will require a capacity for agility — a capability that has become such a necessity in the coronavirus pandemic. In a world increasingly defined by technology, employees will need to grow in step with digital advances, updating their skills and always ready for change.

Written by Nidhal Rezg, Dean of Université Centrale, École Polytechnique, Tunisia

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