Half of all jobs would fall victim to digitalisation. This statement achieved some notoriety, as did its originators. But ten years on from the Osborne-Frey study, the unemployment rate is low and skilled workers are desperately needed. What has taken place, however, is a job transformation! The pace at which job profiles and job requirements change in the digital age has increased dramatically. This requires unprecedented adaptability and a willingness to continue learning. Lifelong learning is becoming a core requirement of modern labour markets. To that end, we should all become a bit more Scandinavian, claims ERGO CDO Mark Klein in his new blog for //next.
By Mark Klein, CDO ERGO Group
Anyone starting to learn a new foreign language as an adult may be too late to do so as effectively as possible. Decades too late, in fact, because the best age for this is demonstrably between seven and eight years of age. At this young school age, our brains are still developing. New nerve pathways are forming and taking shape, depending on the challenge.
But there is hope: We are most numerate at the age of fifty. And studies have found that we have the widest vocabulary once we reach seventy. But the most important message is that we can learn various new skills very well at any age – provided we are still willing to do so.
In particular, anyone who is motivated to deal with the new requirements of the digital world, learn new tools and tasks, acquire data skills and constantly learn new things also has long-term career opportunities – whatever their age.
The human brain is equipped with numerous neuronal connection possibilities which we often leave unused our whole life through. When we learn something new, we create new links and – almost in autopilot mode – expand our possibilities and capabilities.
We showed that we are all able to learn new things. Let’s take the example that most of us were faced with in the last three years – working from home. We quickly learnt how to work together virtually instead of making business trips and meeting in conference rooms.
That was only the first step into a new world of work. Working from anywhere is now part of this, and in future even highly mechanised industrial processes will be part of it, through joint remote working on technical platforms. This is made possible by the digital revolution in interpersonal and man-machine communication that has been taking place for around 30 years.
Let’s think one step further about this revolution: Digitalisation is being adopted in more and more areas, including energy production, mobility and logistics – driven by the need to reduce CO2 emissions. Adapting economic systems to climate change will be the biggest challenge in the next few years and will also change the way we work. That alone requires lifelong learning.
Here in Germany, however, people’s willingness to continue education has been better. The number of people taking part in further training was declining, reported the daily newspaper Die Welt, quoting the person responsible for the “Learning for Life” programme at the Bertelsmann Foundation. This was especially true of those who urgently needed further training in order to improve their job situation.
According to a study by BCG and StepStone, motivation to undertake further training is generally less pronounced in Germany than it is in many other countries. But according to Bertelsmann, it has once again declined. In 2010, 29 percent of people said that further training had become an important component in securing their own jobs. Just a few years later, that was the case for only 11 percent. There is no clear explanation for this, only an interpretation: because of the good situation on the job market, people are less worried about their own jobs.
Whatever the economic situation, in general I don’t think that undertaking further training out of fear is a particularly good source of motivation. Not at a time when successful digital transformation is dependent on people’s willingness to acquire new knowledge. Against this background, can we agree on learning out of curiosity?
The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper recently counted more than 50,000 podcasts produced in Germany. People love the medium, with the number of users almost doubling to 19 million listeners between 2018 and 2020. All men and half of all women listen to podcasts at least once a week to almost daily.
I myself am part of that community and listen to podcasts on all kinds of technologies. I am most fascinated by two podcasts that present history in an extremely lively and exciting way. From this perspective, my bike rides from home to the office and back could perhaps sometimes be longer.
It may be that the hype about podcasts is at the expense of traditional radio. But the topics that interest Germans are fascinating. 20 of the 50 most listened to podcasts from the Spotify charts are apparently in the areas of politics, news and knowledge, produced by big media companies down to smaller, semi-professional broadcasters that have something to tell us.
No wonder employers like ERGO have discovered the podcast as a medium for themselves. But above all, this is proof that Germans have sufficient thirst for knowledge and curiosity.
Within a very short time, technical progress can lead to existing knowledge no longer being of any use. Knowledge increases exponentially and at an ever-increasing rate. Conversely, this means that the half-life of knowledge rapidly decreases. Everything people learnt about IT during the coronavirus crisis had already become outdated after 18 months, a Board member of Hays HR consultancy told the German Manager Magazin.
And that’s not the only reason why, of all the European countries, Denmark and Sweden invest the most in their education and lifelong learning. The choice of government-funded, mostly free programmes is impressive. One million Swedes take advantage of these offers every year, which corresponds to ten percent of the population. New knowledge is not prescribed statically but is adapted to learners’ needs. More importantly, people come together to learn with and from each other in dialogue.
One big advantage of our Scandinavian neighbours is that knowledge is seen as a power factor that needs to be protected – a characteristic that is largely unknown elsewhere. Knowledge needs to flow in order to become better. It needs to be constantly shared. From the German perspective, this can lead to enviable inherent dynamics. The paid 20-minute coffee break prescribed by law is standard in companies. Everyone comes together, regardless of their place in the hierarchy, and exchanges information and ideas. The company acquires new knowledge from within.
In Germany too, there is a culture of needs in which everyone wants to carry on learning. Through a mix of motivating, work-integrated further training, regular courses and enough freedom for self-directed learning. An absolute necessity in order to keep pace with the digital revolution in all sectors.
Companies are introducing e-learning platforms. For every employee, there are tailor-made learning pathways for their entire working life, with the possibility of constantly adapting these to the latest requirements. There is no age limit here. Courses can also be provided for personal interests, in order to increase people’s learning motivation in general.
Companies are under an obligation to offer these courses. But it won’t work without colleagues’ inclination and involvement.
Do you know the 70-20-10 model? According to this, only 10 percent of our current applied knowledge comes from traditional school education, while 20 percent comes from our colleagues and superiors. But 70 percent comes from us trying out new tasks and directly applying in practice what we have learnt.
A common office culture is a prerequisite for this model. I too am always leading debates on how much hybrid working there should be in the office. We shouldn’t underestimate how important it is for creativity, trust and “spark moments” for us to get together with colleagues and expose our brains to triggers.
It doesn’t matter what subject you concentrate on. What’s important is that you further develop and research it, and read books and newspapers. Stay in good company, share information with others, seek out conversation, be curious about other people’s ideas. Teach other people something. You can also broaden your own knowledge by sharing it.
That way, we certainly need have no fear of losing our jobs. We just have to manage to qualify for what’s new.