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