At Nesta we have spent a lot of time over the last few years thinking about the future of the world of work.

There are certainly challenges ahead, and unless we try to understand how negative impacts might be mitigated, we will further disadvantage those who are most vulnerable – those who don’t have family to fall back on if they need to retrain, or who are in jobs with few employee protections.

You only have to wander into your local supermarket and see that the cashier has been replaced by a self service checkout machine, to be reminded of the seismic impact technologies can have on jobs.

If Wales is going to fulfil the demands of the Well-being of Future Generations Act – creating amongst other things, a prosperous and more equal Wales – everyone, from policy makers to employees, needs to know and understand more about the future shape of work – the skills we need and where they’re likely to be needed.

Future Trends

In order to get a handle on the future, Nesta looked at the impact of trends including automation, the growing ‘green economy’ and changing demographics, on the workforce up to 2030. This piece of research, in partnership with Pearson, predicted that around 10 per cent of workers are in occupations which are expected to grow their share of the workforce, whilst 20 per cent are in occupations that are expected to shrink.

As well as shifts in the job market, it predicted which underlying skills will be in greater – or lesser demand in the future. In particular highlighting the increasing need for a group of ‘soft’ and cognitive skills, from problem solving to communications skills, alongside knowledge in broad areas including English language, philosophy and science.

But it is also likely to be the case that increasing numbers of tech and digital skills will be needed across many jobs in the future. And all over the world, including in Wales, governments have tried to address some of these future challenges by ‘investing in digital skills’.

Our paper on future employment and digital skills, looked at 41 million jobs adverts, to identify those digital skills currently needed in those jobs most likely to grow by 2030 and those in the jobs most likely to disappear.

What we found may be surprising. “Disappearing jobs” are actually more likely to need a digital skill than those that are most likely to grow. That’s because there are jobs with buoyant prospects that don’t need many digital skills at the moment – including teachers and chefs.

Where digital skills are needed, they are noticeably different in jobs likely to grow and jobs likely to decline. What sets ‘future-proof’ digital skills apart is their use for non-routine tasks, problem solving and creation of digital content.

Humans and Machines

In short, if you are just inputting data it may not be long before a robot can take your place. But if you are creating something with that data, your job is not only less likely to disappear but we predict that it will become more important. Skills in animation, multimedia production and design engineering are also seen in jobs with buoyant job prospects, whilst clerical skills like typing and invoice processing performed less well.

This data means little if it only accessed by an elite. Just as important as these broad recommendations is that students and job seekers understand more about where career opportunities will be greatest – and the kinds of skills, both digital and more ‘human’, that employers will value.

One way of doing this might be to use a ‘skills taxonomy’ for the UK. We have designed one at Nesta which helps us to understand – using real  job adverts – how skills are linked to one another, which jobs they are needed in, and even how much they might add to your salary. Tools like this should help to hand people back the power to decide what they want their future to look like.

Eliza Easton, Principle Policy Researcher, Creative Economy and Data Analytics
Rob Ashelford, Co-Lead and Head of Y Lab (Programmes)