The University Network

For Success In The Digital Age, Job Seekers Need New Skills

With the rise of technology and automation, it’s easy for some to reminisce about simpler times and be fearful of the future.

But what was successful in the past — spending one’s entire education and professional career honing one particular skill — is a dangerous tactic today. Repetitive tasks are now too easy to replace in the job market.

So, instead of fighting the advancement of technology, everyone, including college students, should learn to embrace it and expand their skill sets to adapt to the ever-evolving workplace.

That’s the theme of a new report, titled “The New Foundational Skills of the Digital Economy,” by the Burning Glass Technologies and the Business-Higher Education Forum.

The authors of the report examined more than 150 million job postings and 56 million resumes to conclude that individuals must have a combination of skills —  human, technological as well as business — to have a successful career in today’s job market.

“One of the most notable trends we’ve seen in the labor market is movement toward hybrid jobs, or roles that combine skill sets,” said Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies. “This is affecting all kinds of jobs, including those that have typically attracted humanities majors.”

Largely, professions are becoming melting pots of sorts. Techies are having to ramp up their communication skills, and those in liberal arts fields can’t hide from technology like they once could.

Take marketing, for example.

“Marketing has always been a good career path for liberal arts majors because of its emphasis on communications skills, analysis, and creativity,” said Sigelman. “Over the past 10 years, however, marketing has become a highly data-driven field. Those who know how to understand, analyze, and interpret data have become a lot more valuable, even in traditional humanities fields.”

To help prepare individuals for work in the evolving job market, the authors of the report identified 14 key “foundational skills” that are essential to career mobility and success in the digital age.

Each skill is conveniently categorized into three subcategories — human, digital and business.  

Human skills

The authors identified communication, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and analytical skills as the “human skills” necessary to prosper in today’s job market. These skills, sometimes referred to as “soft skills,” are commonly sought after by employers in all industries, according to the report.

Understandably, skills such as these have long served as the foundation to success in humanities-based professions. But as technology grows increasingly prevalent, there is a greater need for technologists who can also think critically, communicate to the public, and make ethical decisions.

Digital-building-block skills

Digital-building-block skills are the skills that many people in humanities professions may currently be lacking. Examples of such skills include software development, data management and analysis, computer programming and cybersecurity.

While those in the humanities may not be lining up to acquire these skills, individuals who have taken the time to learn them are increasingly sought after by employers in nearly every job market, including those outside of technology.

Business-enabler skills

Business-enabler skills, in essence, empower individuals to use new technology to achieve their broader business goals.

These skills include project management, communicating data, business process and digital design.

“These skills are critical to unlocking and communicating the value of digital technologies and applying them to address stakeholder needs,” the authors wrote in the report.

How to develop foundational skills

To develop a competent workforce that is prepared for the evolving job market, higher education institutions, college students, current employees and employers all have a role to play.

In regards to higher education institutions, the authors of the report suggest that these skills should be built into coursework and curriculum goals and integrated into admissions processes and on-campus student advising.

The authors also suggest that higher education institutions should coordinate with businesses and employers to check in on what students will need to know to earn and complete internships and other work-based opportunities.

But students must also take initiative.  

According to the report, college students should recognize that developing these skills is essential to a lengthy and prosperous career.

Specifically, the authors suggest that students should strive to be continuous learners, and they should seek out opportunities, such as internships, to acquire and develop the skills necessary for a lengthy career in the digital age.

And for incumbent employees and job seekers who may feel lost, there is still time to develop the foundational skills listed in the report.

But to do so, the authors suggest current employees should identify the skills they are currently lacking, and actively pursue in-company or outside training to fill their knowledge gaps.

Lastly, the authors call on employers to “aggressively signal” the new skills that their companies demand, and to restructure their hiring practices to attract and develop talented workers.

“The New Foundational Skills drive change,” Sigelman said in a statement. “Over time, these skills reliably trickle down from specialized jobs and fields, as increasing demand makes them routine. They create mobility for individuals, as one person’s Digital Building Block Skills, for example, are enhanced by their Business Enabler or Human Skills. And, perhaps most significantly, they increase in value over the course of a career. People and institutions that acquire and blend these skills become more powerful, flexible and dynamic.”