Are You Prepared for the Future of Work?

Why reskilling and upskilling is the key to professional survival

September 20, 2019 | By Gordana Goudie
Two women and two men are collaborating in a business setting. All four are facing a whiteboard and look engaged while one woman points to the board.

In today’s work environment, change is a given. Embracing it is not an option but a matter of professional survival. As disruptive technologies continue to transform jobs, workplaces, and industries, today’s workers need to evolve with them – or be left behind.

The adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) across industries will only accelerate in the near future, driving the demand for new capabilities. Ongoing professional education, focused on deepening current skills and acquiring new ones, is the key to navigating this new landscape.

The common belief is that AI will take jobs away. According to a 2017 study on stress at work, 43% of employed workers worry that AI and new technology will replace them. McKinsey Global Institute’s recent report on the future of work in America predicts that automation and AI will lead to job losses nationwide through 2030 with the displacement rate averaging between 22% and 27%. In some rural, low-growth areas, it could reach as high as 33%.

While new technology is driving sweeping changes, it doesn’t have to mean bad news. It’s true that some occupations are shrinking, but the economy is also generating new jobs, according to McKinsey.

In fact, research by Ziprecruiter shows that AI created three times as many jobs as it destroyed in 2018. As innovations in technology continue, entirely new jobs will be created. According to a report by the Institute for the Future, up to 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been created yet.

The reality is that job growth is happening but not evenly across professions, industries and geographical areas. According to McKinsey, employment opportunities in urban core cities with well-educated populations will grow. The demand for some jobs will increase while other jobs will be phased out. For example, healthcare and STEM occupations, creative and arts management, and business services are the highest growth areas. On the other hand, other jobs such as those in office support, production work, and food service will decline.

As machines take over tasks and job functions, millions of Americans need to move into new roles, industries or locations – or change the way they do their current jobs. Even the jobs that are not going away are changing.

A 2018 briefing by McKinsey indicates that new technologies are causing traditional jobs to evolve, requiring new combinations of skills and heavier use of technology.

To prepare for this transformation and to remain relevant in the workplace of the not-too-distant future, today’s workers need to reskill or refresh existing skills and upskill or build new capabilities to meet changing business demands.

What are the skills that will be in demand? Technological skills are a must across the board regardless of industry or profession. According to McKinsey, the time Americans will spend using advanced tech skills in their workplaces through 2030 will increase by 50%. Workers in all fields will be required to develop basic digital skills to be able to operate effectively in automated workplaces.

Although essential, tech skills alone will not suffice. They need to be combined with specific non-technical skills. Within the next decade, the study indicates that the need for social and emotional skills is set to grow 26% across all U.S. industries. These so-called “soft skills” include empathy, communication, and the fastest growing of all: entrepreneurship and initiative taking. Similarly, a report by Merrill Lynch reveals that companies seek employees with empathy, the ability to listen and a high comfort level with change.

To thrive in the workplace of the future, today’s workers need to be able to thrive on change. Forward-thinking professionals are anticipating it and preparing for the future. Evolving with their industries and professions means workers need to adopt the mindset of lifetime learners – and pursue ongoing professional education throughout their careers. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that 63% of working adults were engaged in work-related learning between 2015 and 2016.

Eddie Radford, graduate of the Cybersecurity Bootcamp at Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), explained one of the reasons working adults pursue professional education.

"Late career transitions can be challenging, and utilizing GTPE in my journey made a real difference for me. Participating in these classes transformed my competitiveness in the job market and made my skill set more relevant to employers."

Considering the ever-growing need for new skills and capabilities, it’s no surprise that adult learners are the fastest-growing learner demographic in higher education today. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40% of the 19.8 million students attending U.S. colleges and universities are adult learners aged 25 or older.

The need is clear, and future-focused universities are responding with innovative programs and flexible learning options designed to prepare today’s working professionals for tomorrow’s workplaces. The Georgia Institute of Technology introduced the world to the first online master's degree in computer science from a top-ranked university priced at less than $7,000 tuition. This groundbreaking degree was soon followed by two others in high-demand STEM areas for less than $10,000 tuition: in analytics and in cybersecurity.

In 2018, Georgia Tech also announced its academic roadmap for the future that sets out how the university will serve its surging adult learner population. GTPE is the Institute's lifelong learning arm that has delivered professional education for more than a century and distance learning for over 40 years. GTPE offers industry-specific online master’s degrees in high-demand fields as well as professional development courses in STEM, business and leadership both onsite and online. More than 36,000 adult learners each year choose us as their lifetime learning partner. If you haven’t done so already, join them and future-proof your career with us.

Georgia Tech Professional Education is a leader in innovative educational delivery, designed for working professionals in tech, business, and leadership. Our connection to the marketplace — coupled with our world-class faculty, researchers, and subject matter experts — provides an unparalleled prospective to education innovation, industry trends, future work, and lifelong learning. To uncover additional insights into the demographic, social, and technological disrupters of the 21st century workforce, visit our Future of Work page.