Friday, May 4, 2012


By kay.e.strong
[You may wish to read the two previous blogs on the future of work: …the Class of 2012 and book a space before starting this one.]

The very nature of work and workplace arrangements, worker compensation, as well as the size, composition, and skills of the workforce are being challenged by the forces which have already disrupted other aspects of life. Smart machines are automating both basic and highly specialized routine procedures. Atomizing jobs are allowing deep specialization, propelling productivity, cutting cost per unit and improving product quality.  A bachelor’s degree replaces a high school diploma as the minimum for entry into the job market. Global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the heart of organizational operations, foreign workers are equally attractive to domestic businesses, and globally distributed work is becoming routine.

So, what does this mean for future workers?  Workers are cut loose from direct supervision, a daily clockwork routine and permanency of income.  In effect, workers become a new class of hunter-gathers foraging for daily sustenance. Success will necessitate—to say the least, a new set of foraging skills!

The Institute for the Future (IFTF), a highly respected forecasting organization, published Future Work Skills 2020 identifying not only the forces disrupting work but also the skills to navigate.  While I encourage you to access and read the entire report, I highlight the ten skills below.

  1. Sense-Making: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  2. Social Intelligence: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interaction
  3. Novel & Adaptive Thinking: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  4. Cross-Cultural Competency: ability to operate in different cultural settings
  5. Computational Thinking: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  6. New-Media Literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  7. Transdisciplinarity: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  8. Design Mindset: ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  9. Cognitive Load Management: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  10. Virtual Collaboration: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team
To prepare the mind for change is, I believe, the first step on the journey into the unknown.  So, last week I lead my microeconomics students into the future of work 2020.  On their final exam students had an opportunity for self-reflection on the challenges that lie ahead.  They worry that, perhaps, they are not being properly trained for the emerging work world.   They lamented that their personal habits, self-discipline, self-starter ability, and time-money management skill, may not be sufficiently strong to assure success as contingent workers.  They want the path of connection to communities-of-work in a brokered world to be illuminated.  Some expressed concern that post-secondary institutions may not be doing enough to prepare them for their journey into tomorrow.  They offer some suggestions: create deeper specialization within the major, diversify across programs and disciplines to assure accumulation of more skills and knowledge, and offer practical opportunities to hone entrepreneurial skills that will help bridge the gap from permanent worker to contingency status.  Students recognize that proficiency, as well as, comfort with digital communications technologies is a new workplace necessity.

Our future workers have spoken.  What did we hear…better yet, what will we do to enable their success. Truly, another WAIT-T (we’re all in this together) question.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. –John Muir, 1911.

Kay Strong, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, M.T., University of Houston, M.A., Ohio University; Associate Professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Areas of expertise: international economics, contemporary social-economic issues, complexity and futures-based perspectives in economics. E-mail:

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This blog lives under the auspices of the Department of Economics whose mission has been to hold high the lantern beaming an "economic way of thinking" onto the world. Selfishness, rationality and equilibrium have been central to the teaching of an economic way of thinking rooted in the Renaissance. And, in this regard, the department has faithfully stayed the course. The intent of this blog, thinking out loud..., however, is to entertain exchanges which may challenge the centrality of economics as we teach it.