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This article was published 20-10-2017

Create your own opportunities on the 2020 labor market

Learning is the new fitness trend. In order to stay ‘brain fit’, we need to train for at least thirty minutes a day, according to Erik Scherder (2014). In order to keep ‘job fit’, we need to consciously work on our personal development every day to ensure that we can provide the new skills required from us in this information era.

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Within four years’ time, a third of the skills (35%) that are important in our jobs today will have changed, predicts the World Economic Forum in its report The Future of Jobs (2016). They point out that today's era, in which robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, media literacy and 3D printing are developing rapidly, demands new competencies and skills from employees. Creativity will be one of the top 3 skills that employees will need.

Our unique human skills, such as working together and creativity, become particularly useful in the interaction with robotics. Gary Kasparov demonstrated this when he allowed people and computers to participate in an open chess tournament. This was ultimately won by the student team working together with a chess computer via their mobile phones (Haterd, 2015). We need to open up and prepare for this interaction between man and computer.

Preparing for 2020

How do we obtain the skills that prepare us for the digital technological future? And is everybody able to adapt?

 Well, that depends. Being ready for 2020 is not just about cognitive intelligence. Much more decisive will be ‘development intelligence’, i.e.: the extent to which we are prepared to develop ourselves, move on from the past and work on ourselves.

Wanting to invest in your own development will be crucial to future success on the labor market. Investing is not so much about money, but about the willingness to make an effort and take action. A nurse who takes an interest in health care robotics in her free time and who is therefore the first to be allowed to run a pilot in her organization is a good example of someone adapting to the changing circumstances. Just like the technical draughtsman who not only learns about 3D drawing, but also delves into the field of 3D printing, thus increasing his employability and creative brain (Swaab, 2016). I recently facilitated a Job Crafting training course (adapting your job to your talent) during which one employee said ‘I always wanted to be a photographer’. The manager immediately responded by asking the employee, in his current job, to take pictures for the company website. The opportunities are there, as long as you are willing to see them. The happiness hypothesis (Haidt, 2006) teaches us that, if you want to take the road towards change, you need to make sure that your good intentions (‘the driver’) and your physical emotions (‘the elephant’) start working together. In addition, the path you take should present as few distractions as possible. If you want to train more, you will need to have your sports gear with you so that you can go to the gym straight from work. Or take someone else along with you, as extra motivation. Make sure that the road to the sofa is blocked.

So going back to the workplace: if you want to get better at speaking up in meetings, you will need to ensure that your working environment is aware of this. You can then be invited to say something and make sure you don’t miss the moment. You can use a buddy at work to remind you of your learning objectives. Alternatively, get started with tools that remind you of your intended actions (there are apps available). The most important thing is to share the things you want to work on. At the same time, we must not underplay the obstacles we face. Besides perseverance, development demands time and money, and not everyone has that. As a society, we need to provide support to ensure that anyone who wants to join in can do so.

What can organizations do?

I would like to see a stronger focus on continuous learning and development in organizations, particularly in sectors where the impact of digitization and robotization is (potentially) high, such as in financial services, retail and industry.

Furthermore, learning new skills should be introduced early on (2017 is already really too late). Fortunately, more and more organizations have an employability budget. However, just providing a budget is not enough. Following a course once a year is not enough to future-proof your digital & social skills. As an employer, you will need to actively encourage employees to embrace new technology. Introduce robots at work, make sure that everyone posts weekly blogs or vlogs about their work (developing knowmads), introduce the 3D printer to the workplace and allow your employees to experiment, even if it has nothing to do with their current jobs. In short, invite the future into your organization. For example, more and more companies now work with a ‘reception robot’ (not yet as a replacement but to make a statement). Robotverhuur.nl allows you to hire ‘Pepper’ or ‘Zora’ for such purposes. Alternatively, visit a company that already uses a robot, for example ‘Here’ in Eindhoven, where ‘Princess Estelle’ takes over work from software testers. There is already an employment agency for robots, ‘Smart Robotics’, where you can visit the Customer Experience Center.

Experimenting instead of obligating

By trying out as many things in the workplace as possible, learning and experimenting become the standard. By doing so, you give your employees a huge advantage on the labor market. Not only because they have already been introduced to new technology, but above all because it changes their mindset. From resistance to ‘trying things is fun’, from fear to ‘making mistakes is OK, I learn from them’. This ‘growth mindset’ (Dweck, 2008) is crucial to being able to successfully tackle problems in 2020. In order to invest in our fitness, we will need to make a positive connotation to learning (5x10 push-ups) and training (sweating in the gym). This produces something tangible (a lean body, feeling fit). If learning and training feel like an obligation, a time and energy-consuming activity that doesn’t seem to have any benefits, the appetite to learn will be practically non-existent. Remember how compliance and/or legal obligations are trained in certain sectors. This often still happens in the old-fashioned way, based on instilling fear (for example, it has negative consequences for performance reviews or even the appointment of employees). Leaders can also discuss ‘mandatory’ subjects during a team day, complemented by practical cases. This brings the theme closer to our work, and thus more relevant. Or make sure that employees are reminded about making ‘sound’ choices, which are built into the programs they work with (“Did you discuss this customer advice with a colleague?”).

“The information era demands us to revitalize ourselves”

Brain research teaches us that learning is most effective if you 1) are curious and willing to learn (your body produces dopamine, the chemical in your brain that ensures information is stored better), 2) are learning something that is new, but above all slightly more difficult than your current knowledge level and 3) are not under too much strain (an excess of stress paralyzes the brain, rendering you unable to store new information). Alard Droste boosted turnover at the Aldowa metal company fivefold by giving employees as much freedom as possible. He doesn’t believe in performance reviews or job profiles, but in giving employees personal responsibility to do what’s needed.

Centralizing growth

Training for 2020 requires a fundamentally new perspective on development. Firstly, a different approach to evaluating performance is needed. Growth becomes more important than the final result. In addition, it requires a different view of employees and their possibilities. Too often, HR managers still claim that they offer a whole range of options, but that employees don’t take advantage of them because they don’t feel like it. However, your thoughts lead you down a negative path; it's our assumptions that get us into trouble. We (managers) often behave in a way which makes employees dependent and reactive, Arend Ardon (2011) explains. Whatever you do, don’t impose any requirements on the course employees choose within the educational budget. Macramé is often used as an example of a course you should not be allowed to choose, because it wouldn’t contribute anything to the work of the department. But what if this course makes someone feel happier, motivating them in the process to do another course? Maybe even starting to teach his colleagues how to do macramé? Is that so bad?

Can anyone join in?

Will there be employees who never master the 2020 skills? What happens to these people? Such questions are not new: the same questions were asked regarding the skills needed for 2000 and 2015. There may now be more employees who are unable to join in. Whatever the case, the pace of change at work is obviously higher than ever and we therefore need to adapt faster than before. Some people will fall by the wayside and need to be looked after. This can be achieved by making social adjustments, by keeping up the dialog about social and economic provisions, such as basic income, shorter working weeks and increased security for flex workers. But also by strengthening our social cohesion with neighborhoods, mini-businesses, appreciation for voluntary work, barter economies, etc.

Seeing the employee as a whole

The most important tool for coping with change is the way in which we view people. I, and many others with me, believe that people are naturally creative, resourceful and ‘whole’, enabling them to find their own solutions and answers. Organizations should aim to approach their employees from this vision. Laloux (2014) refers to this as the wholeness perspective. Through wholeness, an employee fully commits to work instead of leaving part of himself at home, thereby utilizing his full potential.

Learning 2020 skills? Start exercising!

The information era requires us to revitalize ourselves. New muscles need to be built up (skills) and trained. Weakened muscles need to be strengthened. In order to ensure that we are motivated to go to the gym (develop), we need to ensure that training (learning) becomes the standard. We are going to discover that training gives us something in return (a six pack makes me happy, while new skills open up new horizons). All this means that we start to enjoy training. The environment in which we train is also very important: the gym is inviting. They want you to visit. They don’t send messages like ‘We haven’t seen you for a week.’ They make it possible for you to train from your own home. Everybody trains, each at his or her own level. This is how a workplace should be too: the manager as a sports coach, inspiring and helping you to achieve your personal objectives. Bring on the ‘2020 Games’!

This article has been published in LoopbaanVisie, 2017

Corline van Reenen (1972) is a coach and lead consultant at Schouten Global. Her work focuses on the revitalization of organizations, making people feel fit again, in their right place and future-proof. She built her career at ABN AMRO and Rabobank. Corline is also a board member at NVO2.

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