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How technology is changing how we work – and what higher education can do about it

Upskilling with microcredentials can open doors for many employment opportunities
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Technology is disrupting how we work. The amount of work getting done online has ramped up since the pandemic, yet surveys show that most employees still feel unprepared for this new world of work, and companies are struggling to find employees with the skills needed for a future-ready workplace.

With so many jobs being affected by automation and digitization, almost every job will require a different skillset in the coming years. What is the role of higher education in preparing employees for this changing world of work?

The digital vs. analog work divide

There is now four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic, with highly digital sectors like finance and tech seeing the highest wage and revenue growth. Less digitized sectors like healthcare, education, and retail are not seeing the same scale of growth, and workers in these sectors tend to be the lowest paid and the most likely to face job disruptions in the coming years.

Higher education can address this growing divide between the online and offline workforce by taking a proactive approach to career services. One solution is for universities to partner with employers to offer work-integrated learning experiences that can help people prepare to change or advance their careers. These work experiences give students hands-on experience that can help them get a foot in the door of their chosen industry.

The digital skills gap

Research shows that 76% of employees feel unprepared for the digital-first workplace, yet more jobs than ever now rely on these digital skills. This mismatch between the skills that companies need and the skills that employees actually possess has been called the “skills gap,” and it’s changing the way employers go about the hiring process. Surveys reveal that organizations are shifting their hiring practices to focus on an employee’s skills rather than their past work experience, which allows companies to reach a wider pool of candidates.

A McKinsey & Company survey found that validating a potential employee’s skills is the greatest hiring challenge that employers face, followed by finding applicants with the right skills. Higher education can address both difficulties by training people for the skills that are most desired by employers, and by helping employers validate these skills. To date, Dalhousie University has delivered over 1,000 microcredentials, which are targeted learning experiences that focus on certifying specific skills. When a student completes a microcredential, they get a digital badge that can be used to certify that skill with employers.

Automation and advances in technology

In Canada, 40% of all employees are at moderate to high risk of losing their jobs to automation, and the World Economic Forum predicts that 50% of all workers will need to reskill by 2025 to respond to advances in technology. But while technologies are replacing some roles, they are also creating new jobs that haven’t been imagined yet. One-third of new jobs created in the past 25 years were types that previously did not exist, suggesting that new technologies can have an overall positive impact on employment.

Higher education can help offset the worst effects of automation by offering adult learners new pathways to career advancement. More adult learners are returning to school at various points in their lives as the need for skilled workers grows across many industries. Within universities, there is a growing marketplace for alternative credentials – like microcredentials – that provide skills training while validating an employee’s skillset.

Whether we’re ready or not, the digital transformation is changing how we work. Many jobs are becoming more technical, and much of the population will need to develop their digital workplace skills in the coming years. By offering work-integrated learning experiences, skills credentialing, and ample opportunities for people to continue their schooling throughout their lives, higher education can prepare individuals for the workplace of today and the future.

Discover a world of opportunities with the Dal Faculty of Open Learning and Career Development.

-Article written by Jessie Hill, Market Intelligence Analyst

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