The future job market belongs to the agile and adaptable


There’s a great (and long) article in The Atlantic that focuses on a new-generation Navy warship and its crew of “‘hybrid sailors’ who have the ability to acquire skills rapidly.”

“The ability to acquire skills rapidly.” Sound familiar? It’s a topic I’ve discussed many times in this blog. The key to surviving in the digital age is adaptability — because the defining characteristic of the digital age is an accelerating pace of change. And if you can’t keep up, you’ll fall behind.

“The half-life of skills is getting shorter,” IBM’s Joanna Daly tells The Atlantic‘s Jerry Useem. This trend has profound implications for employees, for how enterprises structure themselves and manage their workforces, and for traditional education and training models.

“Minimal manning—and the evolution of the economy more generally—requires a different kind of worker, with not only different acquired skills but different inherent abilities,” Useem writes. “It has implications for the nature and utility of a college education, for the path of careers, for inequality and employability—even for the generational divide. And that’s to say nothing of its potential impact on product quality and worker safety, or on the nature of the satisfactions one might derive from work.”

Existential crisis ahead! Seriously, it’s really all very mind-blowing. And it’s happening in real time to enterprises and employees alike. The gig economy is a familiar manifestation of this phenomenon: Enterprises can rely on a fluid set of skills while also reducing payroll. But morphing a full-time staff from a healthy mix of generalists and specialists to mostly generalists is a major change that requires a different hiring approach.

“We’re starting to see a big shift,” people-analytics expert Guy Halfteck tells Useem. “Employers are looking less at what you know and more and more at your hidden potential.”

Which is not to say that an enterprise would hire someone with no programming experience to fill an iOS development slot. There always will be a need for specialists in most fields, tech in particular. Let’s face it, there’s really no margin for error in things like apps coding, network security, and infrastructure design.

But in the big picture, the value of expertise becomes more and more limited, while the value of agility and adaptability more highly valued. It’s something to keep in mind as you strategize your careers and workforces.

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