Kathryn Parsons MBE
“What are the skills of the future?”, “how can I future proof my career?”; these are the questions I am most frequently asked. And after a decade spent decoding the digital world, I consider it my job to know. At Decoded, we spend every day trying to deconstruct the most cutting-edge technologies impacting the world enabling companies like Unilever, HSBC and Mastercard to upskill their talent. In my lifetime, there has never been a more accelerated period of technological change, nor a more pressing need to reskill for the future. But with such a dizzying array of new tech trends, how on earth can human beings catch up? Here’s my cheat sheet to the seven skills and mindsets you need to future proof your career:
“What’s a pirate’s favourite programming language? R.”
Microsoft estimated that there were 150 million digital jobs waiting to be filled in the US alone by 2025. This includes 98 million in software development, 23 million in cloud and data, 20 million in artificial intelligence and machine learning and beyond. All this amounts to an explosion of roles, across all companies and geographies, commonly commanding salaries upwards of $150k per year. The golden thread connecting them all? Data skills. Not all digital skills were created equally, and if there is one I would place my bets on for delivering the maximum return on investment per learner, it would be data skills. Once we have managed to wean a generation off Excel, the transformative impact of these new tools knows no limits. The application of AI to the world economy will make what was previously impossible possible. From radical reductions in energy usage and carbon emissions to innovations and breakthroughs in disease detection and prevention, data skills hold the promise to create a smarter, cleaner and fairer world. So whether it is simply learning how to use low-code, no-code tools like Alterix, Tableau and PowerBI, or mastering Python and Neural Networks, take the leap and become part of the new data democracy.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” Aristotle
If Aristotle was alive today, he would most certainly be a student of data science. But crucially also a student of data ethics. As much as AI has the potential to create a smarter, cleaner, fairer world it also has the potential to create a dystopian one of AI warfare, surveillance states and human obsoleteness. This may be due to leaving powerful technologies in the hands of bad actors, or it may in fact be merely a consequence of putting technology in the hands of poorly educated leaders. Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking are amongst many leaders to express their concerns. In response, our modules on data ethics have seen a spike in demand as it appears, somewhat reassuringly, that people are now seeking not only to put powerful tools in their hands, but to use them wisely too. Because it is hard to know what we should fear more, artificial intelligence or human stupidity?
“I wandered lonely as a Cloud” – William Wordsworth
A funny thing happened at peak Covid in March 2020. At a time when I fully expected the boards and leadership teams of the world to be scrambling to respond to the world’s first global pandemic, we unexpectedly received an influx of inbound requests to decode technologies for boards and leadership teams across the world. Why? Covid accelerated the digital transformation of their businesses by as much as ten years overnight. Digital fluency went from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have with immediate effect. Were they asking us how to deploy advanced analytics across their businesses or to multiply their data skills capabilities? No. They were asking us “what is the Cloud?”, “what is the difference between AI and machine learning?” and “what is an API?” Unfortunately the business leaders of the world are often the most digitally illiterate quotient of the organizations they are in charge of. It’s lonely at the top. Who can you turn to to tell you what the Cloud is without making you feel foolish? It’s my ambition to educate the leadership teams of the entire Fortune 500. It may be one of the most underrated but high impact catalysts to accelerate the digitisation of the economy I can think of.
Alan Sugar, eat your heart out
Since the UK launched its apprenticeship levy scheme in 2018 it has caused its fair share of controversy. It is payable by all employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million, at a rate of 0.5 per cent of their total. This money can go towards an array of approved training schemes, spanning management and technical skills and beyond. We launched our Data Academies in 2018 to respond to this demand and are now one of the UK’s largest suppliers of levy-funded data skills.There are many improvements to the scheme being demanded for by employers and training providers alike. The deficiencies mean many employers simply send the money back to government’s coffers rather than it reaching the workers who would most benefit from the investment in their lifelong learning. Despite these challenges, the apprenticeship levy is one of the world’s first schemes of its kind. In 2021 over 600,000 apprentices were taught across the UK – and the UK’s apprenticeship scheme is being keenly observed globally. With a few tweaks, the UK may have one of the world’s best lifelong learning policies on its hands. It is time to throw out any antiquated notions of what an apprentice may look like too. Our learners range from 16 to 60 years old, from mid-career managers, to people just starting their professional lives to PHDs and people on career breaks. We are living in the greatest time of flux and change in terms of our careers and skills. We are all apprentices.
Permission to feel dangerous
In 2021, the number of cyber attacks peaked, with a 40 per cent increase in attacks on the year before. Cyber crime terrifies us, just imagine the havoc one simple attack could wreak on our personal or professional lives? Despite this, we still can’t seem to change our passwords from “passw0rd” or wrap our heads around using a password protector. What an odd relationship we have with our security. Fear and utter complacency in tandem. That’s why we try to get people behind the screen as much as possible during our hacker classes. We take you behind the screen, into the dark web, delving into illegal data dumps, replicating real hacks on banks or retailers. It all sounds a bit dangerous doesn’t it? But it is, in our experience, the only way to create the interest and behavioural change needed to ward off the threat of a real life cyber attack.
90’s web utopianism is back
Virtually impossible potential
The Metaverse is anticipated to present an $800 billion marketplace by 2025. Laugh at Mark Zuckerberg in his Ray Bans on his hydrofoil all you like, this is a marketplace not to be ignored. Brands like Nike have reaped the rewards of taking a “Just Do It” approach to the Metaverse, with the launch of Nike Virtual Studios and Nikeland last year. Today Nike Digital is the fastest-growing piece of Nike’s business, representing 26 per cent of their revenues. So whether you need to devise your organization’s Metaverse strategy or you simply want to escape the real world for a bit (don’t we all), prepare to step through the looking glass and fall down the rabbit hole of the virtual future which awaits us.
There is no silver bullet but any person young or old who develops these seven skills, tools and mindsets, is set to flourish in the economy and society of the future.
Kathryn Parsons is co-founder and co-CEO of Decoded, a technology education company delivering immersive learning experiences spanning digital and data technologies to businesses and governments across the globe.