Data Shows More Jobs Need Tech Skills: Here’s How to Keep Up

SNHU Logo with text: More Jobs Need Tech Skills

We’ve written before about how technology is changing what skills are required for many jobs, particularly in frontline positions like customer service. With headline-grabbing innovations in artificial intelligence and automation, it’s no wonder these types of jobs are dominating conversations about talent development.

In fact, technology is changing the way we do nearly every job, from manual labor to healthcare to law enforcement. But which occupations are changing most rapidly? Not necessarily the ones you’d think.

What Do Anesthesiologists and Stucco Masons Have in Common?

Career development expert Laurence Shatkin has spent more than 35 years studying job skills and compiling that research into books such as 150 Best Jobs for Your Skills. Recently, he’s been analyzing the changing skills requirements data found on the U.S. Department of Labor site O*NET OnLine between 2006 and 2017.

He first analyzed which occupations had the biggest difference in skill ratings, then which skills had the biggest differences across all occupations.

Sharing his preliminary (unpublished) research with us, Shatkin says the common thread is a group of skills related to technology: equipment selection, installation, technology design, equipment maintenance, and troubleshooting. “You have to know what tools to use to get the job done,” Shatkin says. “That’s getting more critical all the time.”

Of the top 20 jobs Shatkin says have the biggest jumps in skills requirements, the majority were in traditionally manual fields such as forestry, construction, and manufacturing. Occupations in healthcare (especially technical positions like anesthesiologists), engineering, and law enforcement were also well represented.

Incidentally, the occupations topping the list are plasterers and stucco masons, because of the introduction of advancements in chemistry that lead to new finishes and other products that workers need to learn to apply.

In a report on middle-skills jobs (defined as those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree), job marketing analytics company Burning Glass Technologies posits that the job market is increasingly divided between those jobs that demand digital skills and those that don’t.

Burning Glass finds 78% of today’s middle-skills jobs require such skills, and digitally intensive jobs have grown 2.5 times faster than their non-digital counterparts. Significantly, these types of jobs are growing more rapidly and offering higher wages.

Workers don’t just need digital and technology skills. They also need to understand how to acquire them. The top five fastest-growing skills on O*NET are all equipment- and technology related, according to Shatkin. But number six is learning strategies. “In order to improve your skill, you really have to know how to learn,” he says. “It used to be that you would open up a user manual, but now you have to be more resourceful about how you upgrade your skills.”

This echoes what Matthew Hora, Assistant Professor of Adult and Higher Education at UW–Madison told us recently for the ebook, The Liberal Arts at the Office: Addressing the New Skills Gap: “Manufacturers aren’t just making the same diesel pump every week for years on end, and employers are struggling to find people who have flexible intellectual and social skills to learn new machinery and processes quickly.”

Related reading: Interview: Developing Academic Skills That Transfer to the Workplace

Reacting to Changes in Technology and Society

Advances in technology and automation are certainly behind many new skills requirements. In the banking industry, for example, a survey by Personetics finds that nearly half of all financial institutions surveyed (including Bank of America and MasterCard) have introduced artificial intelligence and chatbots. More than three-quarters are considering chatbots now or within the next year or two. Along with requiring more highly skilled customer service agents, the industry will increase its need for IT professionals, data analysts, and cybersecurity experts.

Shatkin says much of this technological innovation is driven by growing international competition. That increases the need for rapid learning skills, which he sees as an advantage to the U.S. educational system. “Our educational system tends to focus more on critical thinking rather than rote memorization, which means people are better at learning new things than just relying on what’s written in the book,” he says. “The book’s going to change.”

The last piece of the changing skills puzzle is demographics. As more baby boomers retire, younger people who may be better acclimated to new technologies are entering the workforce. “That is creating some opportunities, but it’s also removing a certain amount of institutional memory,” says Shatkin. “To some extent, that institutional memory deserves to go away. A lot of people in my generation remember the way this country used to work, and it doesn’t work that way anymore.”

The Effect on Employers

Workers may have their choice of an increasing number of jobs requiring technology skills, but many employers are having a hard time finding people to fill them.

In 2014, a joint survey from Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies, and Harvard Business School found that a lack of adequate middle-skills talent already directly or significantly affected the productivity of 47% of manufacturing companies, 35% of healthcare and social assistance companies, and 21% of retail companies. Writing for Issues in Science and Technology, Alicia Sasser Modestino, an associate professor at Northeastern University, projects that by 2022, the number of middle-skills jobs will exceed the number of middle-skills workers by 3.4 million.

A major factor is that employees with technology skills are highly sought after, even in industries that aren’t traditionally STEM-centric. As evidenced by Shatkin’s job skills analysis, basic STEM skills like mathematics, science, and programming have seen major jumps in traditionally non-STEM occupations such as forestry workers and structural metal fabricators and fitters.

That competition — and the changing demographics due to boomer retirement — are creating unprecedented worker movement. “To some extent, there’s a loss when people are moving around from one place to another, but there are also certain gains in that,” says Shatkin. “It means that they’re constantly learning new things, and employers have to try a little harder if they want people to stay around.” Part of that employer initiative, he says, needs to be in training.

Related reading: Building Soft Skills and Employment Pathways

Educating for Today’s Workforce

Because learning strategies rank high on Shatkin’s analysis of the fastest-growing in-demand skills, he sees education as critical to workforce development. This should be not only the responsibility of a formal educational system and an employer initiative, but also a personal value.

“People need to learn not just a set of tricks, but a method of keeping up to date and staying current,” Shatkin says.

As technology skills continue to grow in demand, workers will succeed when they — in partnership with educational institutions and employers — foster their capacity to learn new skills.

Workforce Development

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