Why Build Work Skills

Woman-typing-on-laptop. Image by Matthew Bowden


Universities graduate lack tangible job skills.  Machines keep doing are of the work the humans used to do. What does it mean? It means you must continually invest in work skills if you want stay employed.

Reason To Invest 1: Schools and University Don’t Provide Vital Work Skills

Despite great advances in technology and social research, our learning methods today aren't that much different than what we have in the 19th Century. Painting by: Albert Anker (1831–1910) Die Dorfschule von 1848
Despite great advances in technology and social research, our learning methods today aren’t that much different than what we have in the 19th Century. Painting by: Albert Anker (1831–1910) Die Dorfschule von 1848


From a business perspective, b-schools are falling to provide both the knowledge and the methods of skill development needed to prosper in the 21st Century. Employers don’t need more “theory wonks,” — employees long on theory and short on action.

Periodically, we see studies asking university presidents if their institutions are preparing their students for the world of work. Typically, about 90% of them say it does. But only 20% of business executives agree when asked the same question

For many years, I have been fortunate to teach as an adjunct professor for different universities in the disciplines of management, leadership, entrepreneurship (both for profit and social) and psychology. The students I am lucky enough to teach are smart and good at taking tests, writing papers and getting good grades.

But I also founded and run a training and development company. So I’m always on the lookout for talent. Yet, I can’t find students skilled enough to run a digital marketing campaign. It’s gotten so bad, that we have our own digital marketing training program.

Honestly, most of the employers I talk to DON’T hire critical thinkers — in fact, I have yet to see this on a job description. But they do need application skills such as: executing a marketing campaign, managing projects, running efficient meetings, solving complex operational problems, etc. Mostly good leadership skills with solid management and technical abilities.

Its long been a source of frustration that the vast majority of newly minted new hires lack key business skills. And they know little about skill development. So employees lack a critical competency that increases their value in the eyes of the executive. And the organization wastes precious time and money in training programs.

Reason To Invest 2: Machine Intelligence Gets Better and Better

Image by Ngchinfung (2006). Robot Dream Exhibition in Hong Kong


A revolution is sweeping the world at this very moment. It promises things like:

    • Robotic maids,
    • Replaceable body parts,
    • Virtual worlds, and
    • Augmented Reality.

In fact, a number of technologies are now converging from a number of different technologies such as:

That’s the good news. New “toys for the boys.”

The bad news?  The growth of machine learning and machine intelligence means that to stay employable many of us will have to “up our game.” Let’s take one example.

Let’s say that you want to find a therapist to help deal with a personal problem. In the old days, you might hop in a car and drive to an office. Today, you can sit in your home, Skype or talk by phone to someone you will never meet in person. Perhaps you can even get advise via text or Twitter. And maybe the entity participating in the therapy isn’t even human, it’s an AI (artificial intelligence) programmed to act like a therapist.

See: Try Therapy Without the Therapists

Therapy by machine you say? Impossible. Well it has already happened and it works in the treatment of depression using a set of heuristics from Beck’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

The Race Against The Machine 

 TEDxBoston – Andrew McAfee – Race Against the Machine Access Video: Race Against the Machine

Years, back (actually in 1982), this individual took a course called artificial intelligence. Back then, it was taught in a language called LISP. Before dropping the class as too hard for a business mind, I found out that the state of the art was primitive; only specific technical expertise such as repairing locomotive engines was being modeled.

With the advent of more modern AI programs, many professional jobs can now be automated. This became abundantly clear when IBM demonstrated the power of Watson in the game of Jeopardy. In the contest between two Jeopardy champions and Watson, the program won easily.

Segment from The Show Jeopardy

Not only can an AI system exist on a server or multiple servers anywhere on the Net, but we are starting to see great strides in social robotics — systems that mimic human relationships and complex emotions such as empathy.

Video used in crowdsourcing Jibo, a fundraising campaign the made over 3.7 million dollars on Indiegogo.

These and other trends are likely to result in the loss of a number of jobs. In fact, one well thought out, well researched study out of Oxford in the U.S economy, 47% of jobs are at risk over the next 20 years.

Access the Source Research: The Future of Employment.

So you might ask, what type of jobs are most at risk? Again, there are guidance on this as well. 

Access the Article: Future Economy

For example, one can make an argument that driverless cars won’t have that much impact. But the same cannot be said about trucks. In America, there are about 3 million drivers that could suffer job loss. Not only that, but those who work in restaurants and motels serving this industry are also at risk.

Access the article: On Self-Driving Trucks: The Social and Economic Impact

The Impossibility of Being a Luddite

Today, it’s a social taboo to be a Luddite, meaning someone who opposes technological progress. The original Luddites were highly skilled craftsman in the textile industry who destroyed machines (Conniff, 2011). Not all machines, just the ones replacing their jobs with lower skilled, lower paid workers. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I denied patents if new technology would cause her people to lose jobs.

But today, there is no counter pressure from the political elites to say that jobs are more important than progress. One wonders why decision makers everywhere assume that all tech is good. 

Access: Nine Jobs at Risk


You might say that this is very interesting and one shouldn’t be gloomy and doomy. And you are right. There are many economists who like to use the past as the best predictor of the future. And they say that machine intelligence is simply innovation and innovation destroys some jobs and while creating others.

There is an old saying that applies here. It’s a business statistic if you lose your job. But a depression if I lose mine. If you wait and do nothing until your job goes away, it will likely be too late to engage in the kind of skill development needed to quickly transition into another high paying jobs mid-century.

The time to best protect your house from a storm is not after it rains, it’s when the sun is out.


Acquino, Judith Careers on NBCNews.com, Nine Jobs That Humans May Lost to Robots. Extracted on May 2016.

Brynjolfsson, Eric and Mcafee, Andrew (2012) Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Paperback.

Brynjolfsson, Eric and Mcafee, Andrew, (2011) Why Workers Are Losing the War Against Machines, The Atlantic. October 26.

Conniff, Richard (2011). What The Luddites Really Fought Against, Smithsonian Magazine. March.

Frey, Carl and Osborne, Michael  (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, Oxford University. Paper.

Ford, Martin (2015). Rise of the Robots. Basic Books

Rosenberg, Tina (2015). Depressed? Try Therapy Without The Therapist, New York Times, June 19.

Santens, Scott (2015). Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck. Huffington Post, May 18.

Shinal, John (2014). Future Economy: Many Will Lost Jobs To Computers. USA Today, March 21.

Leadership Skill Development

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