Posted on 14-Jan-15

Have you noticed that the word “disruption” has become de rigueur in the technology and innovation conversation? This report by the Institute for the Future and the University of Phoenix Research Institute predicts several “disruptions” coming to the future workplace, and details the skills employees will need to stay competitive.

As someone who facilitates learning and development for engineers, I was naturally interested to see what was identified as essential for the success of tomorrow’s workers. The ten skills noted in the report included sense making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, computational thinking, new-media literacy, transdisciplinarity, design mindset, cognitive load management, and virtual collaboration.

While each skill resonated with me in some way, transdiscplinarity, was the first to catch my eye. Many universities have started to stress a more interdisciplinary approach to problem solving and I expect this trend to continue. This will likely result in greater importance placed on being a generalist for future engineers.

The design mindset, which could be summed up as one’s capacity for meta-cognition, was also particularly interesting. As engineers (and professionals in general), we definitely need to continue to recognize that different problems require different types of thought processes, and be more open to these thought processes if we want to grow.

Cross-cultural competency also stood out as a key skill for tomorrow’s engineers. As more organizations function on a global scale, employees will have to increasingly collaborate with people that don’t look like them or share a similar background. Work environments, whether they be in person or virtual, are increasing heterogeneous in nature. The ability to be successful in different cultural contexts is critical. Significant research shows that diversity and inclusion needs to be a core competency beyond just an espoused organizational value. The ability to harness diverse perspectives for innovation will be a sought after skill. We know that a group of diverse perspectives always outperform the likeminded group.

Lastly I definitely agree that cognitive load management has grown increasingly important, especially in an age where experiencing an onslaught of information and data on-the-job is the norm. The ability to tag, rank, and prioritize information, as well as filter out extra noise is an essential skill. In a sense we have to be able to filter out content in order to get our work done.

Now that I’ve identified the skills needed for future success, what are the “disruptions” that require them? In no particular order they include longevity (people retiring later), smart machines (augmenting or extending human abilities), a computational environment (the collection and ability to analyze massive amounts of data), new media ecology (moving from text based communication to more visual communication), superstructed organizations (social technologies enabling communities to do work beyond the bounds of traditional organizations), and globally connectivity (more exchanges, integration and engagement on a global scale). This infographic shows a bit more detail and the relationships between the disruptions and skills.

While I don’t think most people would be terribly shocked by this list, I did find the concept of superstructed organizations to be particularly interesting. It’s pretty amazing how social technologies have empowered smaller organizations to do things only very large multi-national organizations were capable of in the past. Small groups and organizations are able to work at a scale never seen before due to new tools and technologies. The report makes the point that this is giving to rise to new organizational concepts and by extension, new training methodologies. (A good book to read on this topic is The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World.)

All of this certainly made me consider how IACET organizations can best develop future curricula and competency models. There is abundant discussion on how to measure the ROI of a particular program or how mobile technologies are changing the landscape in which we deliver educational and training content. What I found interesting about this report is that is looking at the future skills central to all professionals across different industries as they relate to forecasted changes within the world. I know for engineering there has been significant movement within various associations to develop models that not only speak to the technical competence but also consider the societal, cultural, and environmental challenges over the next 10 to 20 years.

Do you agree with the disruptions identified in the report and the associated skills tomorrow’s employees need to develop? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Peter Finn, Director of Learning and Development, Society of Women Engineers, and Treasurer, IACET Board of Directors


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