Professional Skills in the Digital Age

By: Gabriel E. Levy B. – @galevy

We may be witnessing one of the most dizzying moments in human history, where innovation has become the engine of constant change, in practically all social spheres.  The new ICTs [1] are emerging abruptly, overtaking previous technologies that we are not even able to measure.

While all these constant changes make our lives easier, they also constitute a permanent threat to the professional and work activities that we humans perform.

What are the most threatened and in-demand skills in the new digital ecosystem?

Some professions have survived over the years, others have been modified and a significant number have disappeared due to the evolution that society, culture and especially ICT have undergone.

From the times of the Roman Empire, until the beginning of the 20th century, the profession of “town crier” was one of the most respected and essential positions, since it was a person who went around towns and cities with a bell, carrying information about events in distant places. It was one of the most widely used means of communication for several centuries by humanity,[2] yet what seemed to be a highly in-demand profession lost all its value in less than two decades at the beginning of the 20th century, due to the radio and the written press, which completely replaced the town criers in these tasks and became the main source of information[3].

The “watchman” profession in Europe was very stable and secure in the 19th century, since it involved a civil servant in charge of lighting the streetlights at nightfall [4], yet electric power abruptly put an end to this noble trade in a very short time.

Other extinct professions are telephone operators, typists, milkmen, blacksmiths, leech hunters and telegraph operators.

But in the same way that many professions have disappeared, new ones have also emerged on account of the same factors, creating new social dynamics and skills.

The 10 most demanded professional skills today:

A report published by the British media, BBC [5], revealed from LinkedIn statistics what are the ten most demanded professional skills by companies and talent and human resources recruiters currently, evidencing the great transformations that are occurring in the labor market. The methodology was based on analyzing the labor demand, observing the profiles of its users, establishing the frequency of hiring people according to their skills.

  1. Blockchain Handling

For the first time in the history of mankind, the ability to manage, handle and distribute the technology of Blockchain, was in first place, as one of the most in-demand skills in the labor market. The crypto-currency systems are based on this technology, which is also considered one of the pillars of the fourth industrial revolution.

  1. Content Management through Cloud Computing

Ranked second was the capacity for design, management and administration of information in the cloud, especially databases.

  1. Data and Big Data Analytical Reasoning

The colossal amount of information produced in the contemporary world demands not only complex storage systems, but also people who know how to analyze, administer and manage this information, occupying the third place in the ranking.

  1. Artificial Intelligence IA Design and Management

Undoubtedly, this will be the decade when Artificial Intelligence algorithms will be consolidated in all social, economic, political and cultural spheres, and for this to happen the market will depend on programmers and designers capable of shaping these complex codes.

  1. Design based on user experience in ICT issues

When Steve Jobs raised the need for systems to be developed based on the user experience and not on the whims of the designer, he probably was not aware of the fact that years later this would be the basis for the fifth most in-demand skill in the labor market at the end of the second decade of the 21st century.

  1. Business Analysis

Business skills will always be in high demand in a market economy; however, everything seems to indicate that this ability is not enough if it is not framed in digital markets.

  1. Marketing

As well as commercial skills, Marketing has been consolidating as an indispensable competence in capitalist economies, especially Digital Marketing.

  1. Sales

Similarly to the two previous ones, sales, a typical skill of the market economy, are still in high demand even in the digital environment, where new tools facilitate and enhance the opportunities to achieve successful results in this field.

  1. Scientific Computing

Scientific computing is an area of theoretical knowledge that has been gaining ground in recent years and is related to the study and construction of mathematical and conceptual models, in order to address complex scientific studies and high-level research, either in the exact sciences field, but can also be applied in the social sciences one.

  1. Video Production

The ability to create good video stories as a communication strategy for the entertainment industry and for marketing in general, has been consolidating in recent years until entering for the first time in the ranking of the 10 most in-demand professions globally.

In addition to these competencies, the research identified that persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence, as soft skills, must be present in the professional profile and are highly valued by companies when hiring human talent.

Future is uncertain

Currently, the engineering fields, especially systems engineering, data and number management, seem to be the most promising skills. This will not necessarily continue to be the case in the future, since quite surely and on behalf of Artificial Intelligence, circumstances could change again, replacing humans in some of these tasks and new competencies will most certainly appear in the medium and long term.

Knowing what skills are required to face the future would help many parents to focus their efforts from an early age, just as many parents working in Silicon Valley companies, although it seems incredible, have chosen to focus on building humanistic, creative, and emotional and cognitive-based skills, over high engineering and technological skills.

As we discussed earlier in our article: “Is learning to disconnect the biggest challenge of connectivity?” [6]. The research work of the journalists Gal Beckerman and Edward Tenner showed that one third of the Waldorf schools [7] in the United States are in California, and three quarters of their students are children of employees of Google, Yahoo, Apple, eBay and HP, among other technology companies.  The revelation was part of the profound journalistic work of The New York Times, where journalists affirm that “Hypocrisy thrives at the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley“[8], since the Waldorf pedagogical methodology has among its bases the least possible dependence on pre-established contents and prefers to use the minimum of digital technologies possible in the classroom.

In other words, the children of the technological giants study under a system that privileges play, empathy and creativity, discarding technology and the specific skills that are so demanding of their lower-ranking employees.

This led Mercedes Mateos, the Education Division leader of the Inter-American Development Bank ⎯IADB⎯, to wonder if we are giving: “Teachers and books to the rich, robots and screens to the poor?” [9].  It is evident that while connectivity is offered in developing countries as the best solution to “decrease gaps” and “increase skills“, there is a marked tendency among the most privileged in industrialized countries to “streamline the use of technology among children” and even adults evidently seek to develop socio-humanistic competencies, based on empathy and capable of surpassing Artificial Intelligence, since competing for mathematical thinking with machines will be almost impossible.

All this allows us to assume that the areas linked to marketing, sales, commerce will continue to be in high demand in the future, since they depend on a high subjective and humanistic component, while the whole range of human areas will be consolidated as one of the most desirable in the future.

However, it is important to understand that there is still time for AI to dominate the labor market, so engineering skills will continue to be in-demand for a long time, since Artificial Intelligence [10] is still on its nascent stages and it will take a long time before it replaces humans.

In conclusion, in the present, engineering skills such as data processing and algorithm management are the most in-demand professions, but they will not necessarily remain the same in the future, where demand will migrate towards socio-humanistic skills, as it will be very difficult to compete with machines in number management. While specializing in sales, marketing and commerce seems to be a safe place for both the present and the future, of course, as long as the economic model does not change abruptly.

Additionally, as identified in the analysis conducted by LinkedIn and published by BBC, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence, and in general the so-called soft skills, will continue to be highly valued by companies when hiring human talent, both in the present and in the future.

[1] Wikipedia article on ICT

[2] Wikipedia encyclopedic article on the profession of the town crier

[3] Elgranporque article on the disappearance of the office of town crier

[4] Encyclopedic article on the job of the watchman

[5] BBC article on the 10 professional skills

[6] Andinalink article on the challenges of connectivity

[7] Wikipedia article on Walford Pedagogy

[8] The New York Times article

[9] IDB Article by Mercedes Mateos

[10] BBVA Openmind article on the future of Artificial Intelligence

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.