The Skills Landscape

We have heard for a generation “your students will have jobs that don’t exist yet.” I paid attention as my children (who are now much closer to 30 than 20) graduated from high school, went to college, and entered the workforce, and they and their friends entered fields that existed previously. Now, however, they and others are faced with the reality that their jobs may be similar, but they are doing very different things. I really is true that tomorrow’s jobs don’t exist today.

As I begin to end my career in education I am turning my attention to problems of ensuring young people leave with the skills they need to assume control of their education beyond school as they enter the workforce. As I explore this field and build systems that will help adults update their skills, it is coming clear that it is the individual who must assume the responsibility for ensuring their skills stay current, and they need to prepare for three types of skills updates:

Upskilling is the work of improving your skills to meet a need your employer or your clients will need that will leave you in a position to assume greater responsibility and build systems that do not exist currently. This need not be management, but it is advancing your career for upward mobility within your field. Most often those who upscale are prepared for jobs that are created by new technology or innovations within the field.

Reskilling is the work of developing the skills one needs when their job is lost. When a major employer leaves, and workers are left to find different jobs in the same region, they will reskill to maintain employment in that region.

Outskilling is the work of developing the skills that are needed in the field (or a different one) and that will result in the worker leaving. Those who outskill will leave their current employment for one they perceive to be an improvement.

Updating one’s skills in these ways is nothing new. What is changing is the number of times of individuals update their skills and the choice to update skills is increasingly voluntary and self-directed.