Are Your Skills About to Expire? - Michelle Gibbings

An hourglass with black sand on an orange background

If someone were to tell you that in less than five years your skills would be 50% less relevant than they are today, would you believe them?

Well, you should because that’s the prediction. It’s suggested that the ‘half-life’ for skills, in general, is around 5 years, while for technical fields it’s more like 2.5 years.

The term half-life, commonly used in physics, refers to the length of time it takes for something to reduce to half its initial value.

In their articleReskilling in the Age of AI Assistant Professor Jorge Tamayo and colleagues suggest that this rapid pace of skill shift means that upskilling won’t be enough. Instead, much of the focus will need to be on reskilling as roles disappear or fundamentally change.

As I’ve written about before, AI will change not just what you do but how you do it.

A joint study by Kellogg Northwestern and MIT Sloan School of Management examined how new technology impacts workers and their earnings. The researchers found the effect varied based on whether the technology could perform a task ‘in place of a worker’ versus ‘complementing workers performing a task’. It was the latter that created more variability such that “the most experienced and highly paid workers suffer, while new hires appear to benefit”.

They concluded that AI could level the playing field within an occupation and that the people who will be most impacted are employees who are currently better at their jobs.

The good news is that these findings reinforce what I’ve been saying for years: that the so-called ‘soft skills’ (such a misnomer) have become more critical than ever. Why? Because AI cannot replace the human-to-human connection. In fact, their research found that roles that relied on interpersonal skills were hardly affected by technological change.

It reminds me of the comment from Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner in an episode last year on these new large language models (L.L.M. i.e., Microsoft Co-pilot, ChatGPT etc): “There’s an old saying: knowledge is knowing a lot of facts and wisdom is knowing which facts matter. In its raw state, an L.L.M. has almost all human knowledge and almost no human wisdom.”

Be Your Learning Master
Becoming the master of your learning pathway is crucial.

You already know that if you want to be at the top of your game, you must be abreast of the latest thinking and ideas from your profession and complementary professions.

It’s time to challenge yourself. When was the last time you proactively decided to learn something new? Last week? Last month? Last year? Or is it so long ago that you can’t remember?

I’m not talking about something your organisation paid for you to do or a course they sent you. I am referring to learning that you decided was necessary.

It could have been learning purely for enjoyment because you wanted to master a new craft. It might have been expanding a skillset or acquiring a whole new set of skills because you wanted to expand your knowledge and skills base.

Make it Meaningful
People learn most rapidly when the learning is relevant to them and when they take responsibility for it.

The choice is yours as to which direction you travel with your learning. Consider this as your investment in your future employability and progress.

Some learning might have a cost tag, while others won’t. All learning, however, involves time. But consider the cost to your career of not being proactive and taking charge.

Reflect on Your Approach
As children, we learn through playing. Playing is a form of experimentation, and while we might fail at something, we typically dust ourselves off and try again.

As we age, we can become more reluctant to try new things and do things differently. We can become more stuck in our ways and avoid learning or tasks where we might fail.

Remember, the best indicator that you’re learning something new is when you feel uncomfortable. Your discomfort is just your brain’s way of alerting you that you’re doing something your brain hasn’t done before (or done frequently).

So, go for something other than learning that’s too easy. You can challenge yourself and enjoy it at the same time.

Build Your Plan
Every year, I sit down and plan out my learning agenda. It will consist of a mixture of cerebral and practical activities, and the learning will be broad and deep.

There may be formal courses, one-on-one development through mentoring, and more casual ‘on-the-go’ learning. From the perspective that all learning is time well-spent, curate the approach that works for you.

For example, you can read a book on a topic different from your day job. You can attend a lecture (there are lots of free or low-cost ones) available. Subscribe to online news services to stay updated on global information, new issues and key trends. Set up Google Alerts on topics that you are interested in so you get alerted when new content becomes available.

The options start with you, and the choice ends with you, too.

Remember the wise words of the author William Pollard: “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

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