My view on Mckinsey's "Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work"

To future-proof citizens’ ability to work, they will require new skills—but which ones? My view on Mckinsey's survey of 18,000 people in 15 countries ...

The original Mckinsey article “Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work“ can be read here. Many parts of it are reproduced here in italic, for simplicity of explanations presented.


We know that digital and AI technologies are transforming the world of work and that today’s workforce will need to learn new skills and learn to continually adapt as new occupations emerge. We also know that the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this transformation.

Research by the McKinsey Global Institute has looked at the kind of jobs that will be lost, as well as those that will be created, as automation, AI, and robotics take hold. And it has inferred the type of high-level skills that will become increasingly important as a result. The original article also states, the need for manual and physical skills, as well as basic cognitive ones, will decline, but demand for technological, social, and emotional, and higher cognitive skills will grow. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a #fan of “end of the world“ kind of scenarios or conclusions, such as the one addressed by McKinsey at the beginning of this paragraph: the one of job loss. When I reach such a conclusion, to me, it means I need to go “further”, go “deeper“ in my train of thought and that means, study some more about subjects influencing that conclusion.

Governments are keen to help their citizens develop in these areas, but it is hard to devise curricula and the best learning strategies without being more precise about the skills needed. It is difficult to teach what is not well defined. (when you reach the end of this article you will have other arguments why this is not factually true). Therefore, Mackisey’s research team conducted research to serve as an example of how big data and machine learning tools and data analytics can assist and help future-proof citizens’ skills for the world of work. The research identified a set of 56 foundational skills that will benefit all citizens and showed that higher proficiency in them is already associated with a higher likelihood of employment, higher incomes, and job satisfaction.

Identification of skills for citizens away from traditional standardization methods

Some work will, of course, be specialized. But in a labor market that is more automated, digital, and dynamic, all citizens will benefit from having a set of foundational skills that help them fulfill the following three criteria, no matter the sector in which they work or their occupation:

  • add value beyond what can be done by automated systems and intelligent machines

  • operate in a digital environment

  • continually adapt to new ways of working and new occupations

We used academic research and McKinsey’s experience in adult training to define what these foundational skills might be. We started from four broad skill categories—cognitive, digital, interpersonal, and self-leadership—then identified 13 separate skill groups belonging to those categories. Communication and mental flexibility are two skill groups that belong to the cognitive category, for example, while teamwork effectiveness belongs to the interpersonal category.

Looking for still more precision, we identified 56 distinct elements of talent (DELTAs) that fall within these skills groups. We call them DELTAs, rather than skills because they are a mix of skills and attitudes. “Adaptability” and “coping with uncertainty” are attitudes, for example.5

Proficiency

To ascertain proficiency levels, we defined a desirable level of proficiency in each of the 56 DELTAs, then devised a psychometric questionnaire to assess respondents’ proficiency against this bar. Eighteen thousand people from 15 countries completed the online questionnaire and were given a score on a scale of 0 to 100 for each DELTA.

The results showed respondents’ proficiency was lowest in two skill groups in the digital category—software use and development and understanding digital systems. Proficiency in the skill groups for communication and planning and ways of working—both in the cognitive category—was also lower than average.

Overall, survey participants with a university degree had higher average proficiency scores across 56 distinct elements of talent, suggesting that those with higher levels of education are better prepared for changes in the workplace.

We also examined whether proficiency was linked to education. Overall, survey participants with a university degree had higher average DELTA proficiency scores than those without, suggesting—perhaps not surprisingly—that participants with higher levels of education are better prepared for changes in the workplace. However, a higher level of education is not associated with higher proficiency in all DELTAs. The association holds true for many DELTAs in the cognitive and digital categories. But for many within the self-leadership and interpersonal categories, such as “self-confidence,” “coping with uncertainty,” “courage and risk-taking,” “empathy,” “coaching,” and “resolving conflicts,” there is no such association.6 For some DELTAs, more education was associated with lower proficiency, “humility” being an example.

Mckisey’’s Findings

We went on to test whether proficiency in the DELTAs was already helping people in the world of work; the results showed that survey respondents with higher DELTA proficiencies were, on average, more likely to be those that were employed, with higher incomes, and higher job satisfaction. Different DELTAs were more strongly associated with these three work-related outcomes, however.

Holding all variables constant—including demographic variables and proficiency in all other elements—we found employment was most strongly associated with proficiency in several DELTAs within the self-leadership category, namely “adaptability,” “coping with uncertainty,” “synthesizing messages,” and “achievement orientation”

High incomes were most strongly associated with proficiency in the four skill groups where overall proficiency levels were lowest among respondents—namely understanding digital systems, software use and development, planning and ways of working, and communication (the first two fall within the digital category and the latter two within the cognitive category).8

Digital proficiency seems to be particularly associated with higher incomes: a respondent with higher digital proficiency across all digital DELTAs was 41 percent more likely to earn a top-quintile income than respondents with lower digital proficiency.9 The equivalent comparison was 30 percent for cognitive DELTAs, 24 percent for self-leadership DELTAs, and 14 percent for interpersonal DELTAs.

That said, the four DELTAs most strongly associated with high incomes were “work-plan development” and “asking the right questions,” both in the cognitive category; “self-confidence,” a self-leadership DELTA; and “organizational awareness,” an interpersonal DELTA (Exhibit 4, part 2).10

Job satisfaction is also associated with certain DELTAs, especially those in the self-leadership category. Holding all variables, including income, constant, “self-motivation and wellness,” “coping with uncertainty,” and “self-confidence,” had the highest impact on respondents’ job satisfaction

Notably, proficiency in two self-leadership DELTAs—“self-confidence” and “coping with uncertainty”—ranked among the top three most predictive DELTAs for two out of the three outcomes.

How adoption of more metrics could help shape education and adult training

Mackinse’s findings are a good example of how metrics in education and training assist in assessing particular skills of any citizen and suggest how proficiency in them can influence work-related outcomes, namely employment, income, and job satisfaction. In Mckinsey’s article is possible to read the following:

Our research suggests governments could consider reviewing and updating curricula to focus more strongly on the DELTAs. Given the weak correlation between proficiency in self-leadership and interpersonal DELTAs and higher levels of education, a strong curricula focus on these soft skills may be appropriate.

Governments could also consider leading further research. Many governments and academics have started to define the taxonomies of the skills citizens will require, but few have done so at the level described here. Moreover, few, if any, have undertaken the considerable amount of research required to identify how best to develop and assess such skills. For instance, for each DELTA within the curriculum, research would be required to define progression and proficiency levels achievable at different ages and to design and test developmental strategies and assessment models. The solutions for different DELTAs are likely to differ widely. For example, the solutions to develop and assess “self-awareness and self-management” would differ from those required for “work-plan development or “data analysis.”

In addition, governments could consider setting up institutions for research and innovation in education to fund the research, facilitate researchers’ access to schools to test innovative solutions, and establish which methods work for which DELTAs. They could also make the emerging data and insights available to researchers and educators in the private sector.

Update to the current education systems

The new ways of learning

Nowadays, in any student study toolkit is at least one smartphone with some kind of internet connectivity and access. As this generalizes and becomes more and more part of the daily lives of students, using the internet during study time, enables him giving more choices on how he/she wants to do studying. One particular relevant way I’m finding in 2021 is the possibility of a student to choose between live teaching of class contents or opt to study on previously recorded class study materials. Youtube, is at the forefront of this democratization of knowledge to any common citizen and at a marginal cost to everyone. The price of a 5-second ad.

The real advantage of Youtube is the fact of being closer to what is being demanded here in Europe in regards to data ownership in particular payment of individual citizen's data (authoring). With only this small change in the way of doing business, Youtube managed to grow to record levels the number of YouTubers promoting at the same time, video tutorials about school subjects and learning content. But that is not all, the number of videos dedicated to a specific area of knowledge is so big and broad it makes it possible to deliver tailored video content to each individual student seeking to learn the class subjects. This facilitates immensely the learning process while at the same time lowers the total amount of time needed to learn a specific subject.

In this particular case, I’ve been commenting and advising the need for educational institutions to take the lead and provide some kind of digital certification on web pages where class-related contents are available. In all analogous to a digital certificate logo and a link. This needs to happen at internet speeds, in a nimble way, always assessing contents delivered and their quality. Machine Learning tools and big data here, will help and assists in determining quality metrics on such educational content study materials and more.

Another leap forward in the learning process of a student is the possibility to pause the “class“ (video), rewind, and move forward the number of times he/she finds it necessary to fully understand and learn what is looking to learn. While on pause, the internet allows browsing more contents, whether related (or not) with the contents of the video “class”, contact school colleagues and teachers on any messenger app and pose questions about it. Websites such as Wikipedia are nowadays the go-to for a fast introduction about any general or specific subject, furthermore, it provides the initial keywords for a student to simultaneously browse more related material on search engines of choice.

The adoption of smart devices, phones, tablets, and even laptops with the ability to input data in a pen-like kind of way, the “Stylus Pen“ or the “S-Pen“ as are known and commercialized in 2021 by Apple and by Samsung, the student is able to write directly into the digital realms of the internet, facilitating even further note-taking and sharing. With it, the act of creating new content for school will become so easy to a point of all that to happen in real-time, live, waiting, and sharing with others not only in the class but also elsewhere on the internet.

Furthermore, the availability to everyone and at an affordable price1, of artificial intelligence-related Apps and digital tools for the creation of contents, in particular virtualization of the real physical 3D reality, will complete the toolkit available for any student. I’m going to make a brief pause here, to refer briefly to what this technology really enables to a citizen: the possibility to transform a dream, an idea, into something real on his/her real-world reality, by providing means of virtualization and digital tools (apps) to build, test, repair and rebuild until what was dreamt, the idea, becomes something more real, something more close to reality if not part of his/her reality. Ultimately, this is what these digital realms bring new to society in general. An additional co-creation step between a dream and realization of what was dreamed.

Evaluation of learned skills

Recently I enrolled in a master's degree. As with any course, it was made of “modules“ each with a specific subject and study materials to learn. Classes were delivered online, using a well-known teaching platform for the past 15 years. And is defiantly outdated.
The majority of teachers opted to deliver video classes using a private distribution method (on the Vimeo platform) making it more difficult to share, comment, and post about their class content materials. The direct result of this type of decision, is without any doubt, for a student to find elsewhere the same study topics and materials in a place (on the internet) where is able to share, comment, read, listen and view at zero cost. Let me repeat: at zero cost, in both money and time spent doing it. Another (really big) downside is the inability to share freely class contents and even class workshops and conferences in which the student actively participates. In a reality where skills are assessed not by a quiz, not by a test or an exam, but instead by showcasing achievements and delivered works to anyone looking to hire and without him/her knowing he/she is being evaluated for a possible job offer. For instance, during my masterclasses, on one of the workshops about the fairness of data and explainability of artificial intelligence, I got into an argument with the workshop presenter inquiring about implications at innovation and entrepreneurial level something I found missing not only on the presentation being made but also on the European commission open data guidelines2. Nowadays, I find this to be an important part of how a class should be delivered. By making class events publicly accessible and available for everyone to see, enables, both student and teacher, to showcase his/her participation during the course, and professionally, this translates into, and for anyone looking to hire, a source of real-life events, documented on the possible candidate curriculum, far beyond typical metrics or a recruiting formula.

Finally, the traditional assessment of learning skills is now considered completely dead. The only available option is to limit or prohibit internet access prohibiting and limiting everything else that directly and indirectly depends on it (knowledge-wise). Quizzes, Q&A, an essay, and even a thesis are not only easy to “copy & paste” but also, easy to “Google”, too easy to automate a robot writer assistant to do the writing part (in case of an essay or a thesis). This means the only viable option left is, experimental. Ask a student to show how it’s done: on the laboratory, on a side hustle or gig job, or simply by uploading a “how-to” video tutorial to YouTube.

Update to the current adult-training systems

The majority of respondents we surveyed—like the majority of people in society at large—were no longer in national education systems. Raising proficiency in the DELTAs would therefore require continuous adult training. The fact that proficiency in digital DELTAs—shown to improve the chances of achieving higher incomes—was lower among older survey respondents who had left the national educational system illustrates this point.

The curricula of adult training courses may also have to change. For example, our research has shown that self-leadership DELTAs may be particularly important for employment outcomes, yet these are not commonly covered by adult training programs. For example, in an online scan of adult-training programs, we found that courses or modules to develop DELTAs within the skill groups of goal achievement or self-awareness and self-management were 20 times less common than those to develop communication DELTAs. That could be an urgent gap to fill to adequately respond to the wave of unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specific actions that might encourage relevant adult learning include the following:

  • Establish an AI aggregator of training programs to attract adult learners and encourage lifelong learning. AI algorithms could guide users on whether they need to upskill or reskill for a new profession and shortlist relevant training programs. To develop accurate algorithms, governments would need to collect and organize data on market demand for jobs and skills, as well as data on training programs. Programs listed should include those that teach DELTAs correlated to work-related outcomes. Self-leadership DELTAs could be particularly important given their link to employment.

  • Introduce a skill-based certification system. Occupation-based qualifications risk becoming outdated rapidly as occupations requiring new skills emerge. Hence, skills-based accreditation may better suit employers’ needs. Providers could develop programs that cover the practical skills and DELTAs required to perform a certain occupation but add new components or remove old ones as those occupations evolved. Several AI start-ups have developed algorithms capable of identifying and updating the skill sets required for different occupations. Governments could adapt these to enable a dynamic, skill-based certification system.

  • Fund schemes that encourage a higher focus on DELTAs. Some governments award lifelong learning grants to their citizens, who can enroll in training programs within a national aggregator. To help equip citizens for the future world of work, governments could funnel funds toward programs that include the DELTAs associated with employment. For example, trainees could be offered spending vouchers for particular programs only, while funding to program providers could be conditional upon employment outcomes or the provision of training modules that include certain DELTAs.

Digital tools for promoting employment

Nowadays, the current bottleneck on employment is defiantly Applicant Tracking Systems. Most of them are simply Expert Automated Systems wrapped around some form of machine learning modeling to handle the huge data available of job applicants. This is a known issue giving preference to standardized curriculum presentations and contents. As a result, the best at the end, many times is not the best on the pile of job applicants. The usage of artificial intelligence-assisted tools in this area is still very limited in results. And will only evolve further when AI algorithms are able to understand other types of data, such as human feelings and emotions.

Another key aspect of writing a curriculum also changing is the need for a reference letter.: nowadays, is demanded real-time validation of what is stated in a curriculum. In 2021, validation of skills has been replaced by actual, factual, access to works performed and delivered. To name a few: a technical video on YouTube, open-source code on GitHub, Q&A participation on StackOverflow are the best examples of this newer way of curriculum assessment. More, it allows tracking and evaluating skill change over time and the quality of works delivered. One of the dangers of this type of skill assessment is on the recruiter side of not being prepared when it finds parts of the candidate's digital life, more personal, yet public, and is unable to separate the professional pârt from the personal part.
On the same subject, the application processes are nowadays considered black boxes, and without the needed transparency demanded on open data guidelines. The job candidate simply has to wait for a message or email, unable to know what happened between the initial submission and the first meeting. Many application processes not even a message send to the candidate. And the majority of selection processes do not allow interaction in real-time with the application process. And at the end, little or no feedback is provided on what were the pros and cons of his/her candidacy, depriving the candidate of refining and improving his/her curriculum on future job applications.

I’ve written about this in the past, and been proposing a solution where the application process has a drawn timeline, with well-defined steps during the selection process with the added functionality of real-time interaction, to check on messages being exchanged between evaluators, to add some additional document not sent previously. If you’re interested in reading more, check out the article I wrote a while back entitled “How can I improve the review process of my submitted scientific article“.

Legal tools to promote career change during adulthood

Finally and in regards to the proposed government funding idea present in Mckinsey’s article, I see such type of state measurements only as a way to boost social mobility and only for those who are in need3 of such a push with state funding. And this includes those looking for a career change during adulthood.

To better understand this, I invite the reader to google about the meanings of internet access at no cost and with public access to knowledge databases and contents. For instance, free, public access to scientific papers published in any renowned Journal. With that in mind, the most basic and short “class“ is in the form of a small YouTube video tutorial with no more than 5min of watch time. This means anytime the reader, as a professional with doubt about a particular subject at work, can simply google it, read, view or listen to a “how-to“ explanation of the subject to solve the challenge at work. Over the course of one year, mastery of a specific subject comes naturally, and with it comes the realistic “dream” of why not get certified. And “why not?” all is now available on the next tab on any browser and waiting for inscription after the initial PayPal payment. It takes literally a handful of mouse clicks.

When, all stated above becomes “the new normal” of acquiring skill, skill tools and also in regards to transparency and open data access on job employment ads and vacancies, it will be possible to advertise by governments and politicians in general, promoting job change and even a career change without loosing one single day of pay. Without losing income (to the cent) on pay change.

Ensure lifelong education, high quality, and at zero cost

Most children around the world have access to primary and secondary schooling, but not all of it is of high quality, and early education for the very young—the best age at which to develop certain mindsets and attitudes—is unaffordable for most people in most countries. In addition, very few countries have worked out a system to provide affordable access to quality adult training.

Just as the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century drove an expansion of access to education, on the following standardization happing at industries, today’s technological revolution should drive further expansion towards customization of teaching away from standardization and into to individual mentoring and training, with high-quality and at zero cost. From early childhood to retirement and to ensure that curricula include metrics such as the example provided in McKinsey’s article that will future-proof citizens’ skills in the world of work.

It’s Saturday, it’s rainy on a well-deserved weekend. Don’t forget a long walk in a nearby park. To relearn what is nature, in particular, to remember rain falling in different ways…other than ones on YouTube relaxation videos!

Until next time, don’t forget to share, and if possible, subscribe for fairness of work4 and a fairer economy, or instead buy me a coffee and promote at the same time open source writing.

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1

affordable here means similar to the cost of a publicly accessible, free, YouTube video

2

To this date, this subject is still too high, too at the state institutional level. And is implicitly being assumed to be valid the same way outside state and institutions.

3

the definition of need here will force me to write another article just to cover it…

4

This article took around 5h to write plus the continuous studying and practicing over the last 30 years or so using the latest available tech over the years and decades passed.

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