Are You Second-Skilling?

During a conversation with a colleague, she noted that she believes her job will be automated in the next five years. At a glance, her job of valuating the invisible worth of companies sounds like a complex task. However, she is close enough to technology to realize that these calculations are an algorithm that can be accomplished by a computer.

It’s a fact – the rapid pace of change is changing the way we do business. In turn, this is shifting what we need to do to stay employed. So how are you developing employable skills amidst this change?

A recent TED article highlighted a useful idea that is being utilized in a country with an unemployment rate of only 2%. Singapore had double-digit unemployment and low workforce literacy in the 1960’s. It has since vaulted to the status of a highly successful country which has a gross domestic product that is 300 percent higher than the global average (Oakley). So, what is their competitive advantage?

Barbara Oakley’s research reveals that Singapore has a national program which encourages education. And more recently, the focus has been on re-education. Called ‘second-skilling‘ or ‘upskilling‘, the premise is simple – facilitate ongoing training to help workers adapt to an adaptive workplace. Oakley compares this to metaphors of stepping stones and conveyor belts. In previous decades, each job was a stepping stone which led to the next one. This stepping stone model is logical and paced to the needs of the employee. In contrast, modern business is more of a conveyor belt, constantly moving and progressing. The choice of stepping where and when we wish is different as we shift from a stepping stone to a conveyor economy. Therefore, employability requires constant change to keep up (is anyone else picturing Lucy stuffing chocolates in her mouth at the end of the chocolate factory conveyor belt?). However, while our businesses move forward, it cannot be assumed that workers will also develop at the same pace. This requires intentional effort.

Developing second skills will require training which is outside of the scope of an employee’s current job or career. To facilitate this, Singapore’s government provides annual grants for citizens who want to upskill. This allows ongoing development of skills which can help expand knowledge, skills and employability.

The premise is simple – productive employees need to advance the pace of their personal conveyor belts. While some employers may facilitate this, many will be reluctant to invest in training which may not directly benefit themselves. Therefore, the force behind second-skilling will likely need to be self-motivated or incentivized by government agencies.

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Email:


Source: Barbara Oakley

Why Complicated Work is Becoming a Commodity

Last month a momentous technological feat quietly occurred. A computer beat the world’s best Go player in a best-of-five match. In fact, the Google developed computer program called AlphaGo won three straight games before the human opponent achieved a win. The computer then won the final game of the match to earn a decisive 4-1 victory.

At its core, Go is a game of complex mathematical choices. Some consider it Chess on steroids. The opportunities on a simple 19 X 19 board boggle the average mind. However, much like a computer beating the world-best Garry Kasparaov at chess in 1996, the AlphaGo victory indicates that we have arrived at a new point in history!

I cannot help but apply this historical moment to the future of our employability. As the title suggests, much of our work is becoming something that can be done by machines. Computers now weld our cars (as robots), vacuum our homes (thank you Roomba) and autopilot our planes as we sip champagne. As more and more of our work becomes automated, some are raising concerns about the future security of our jobs! So should you be worried that computers or robots will take your job? Maybe! After all, history teaches us that they already have. Therefore, the secret is to determine which jobs computers can’t do – and I think I know which ones!

Last summer I wrote a short blog about the difference between complicated and complex. Although these two words may appear to be synonyms at first glance, they are unique as we consider the future or work. Here are the differences between these two terms:

Complicated – Something with many interconnecting parts. Intricate. Examples: Imagine a rigorous math problem on a white board. The ability of Big Data to assess your on-line browsing habits in order to predict which products to advertise on your web browser also fits into this category. These things are complicated.

Complex – A system of interconnected parts that constantly change. Fluid. Examples – If an ocean beach lifeguard leaves their tower for 30 minutes, they may come back to a very different scenario. The ability to understand the needs of a crying baby is also a complex matter.

Last week I posted a list of skills that experts believe the workforce will need by 2020. It includes things like creativity, negotiation and emotional intelligence (see Improving Your Work Relationship With Your Robot Assistant). In short, this list was full of complex skills. Technology has demonstrated an increasing ability to deal with complicated – like the game of Go. However, technology has not mastered the complex! Therefore, wise employees will equip themselves with skills that allow them to deliver complex solutions. Things like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and mega-management are complex abilities that will equip employees with the skills they need to succeed.

You will be employable in the future. This is because you are a human and you were designed to do complex things. However, to ensure your future success, you must equip yourself with complex skills. Those who only focus on complicated will at some point, find themselves beaten by the latest version of AlphaGo!


Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Photo Credit: Wired Magazine