How we fill the jobs of the future

There are kids in school today who, by their twenties, will be working in jobs and industries which are yet to be invented.

This is one of the conclusions of a recent interim report for the Financial Services Skills Taskforce – the Chancellor’s initiative to ensure the sector has the skills it needs to remain globally competitive into the future. The report found that the technical skills needed by financial services firms are evolving faster than roles can be currently be filled – and the pace of change is likely to increase.

How then do we help these young people to choose what to study and which skills they need to develop to enter careers which will be fulfilling and stand the test of time? There is not a simple answer to this, but I think there are a number of things which can help.

For a start, we must stop talking about skills such as adaptability, empathy, resilience, constructive thinking, persuasion, curiosity and rapport as ‘soft skills’, and recognise that they aren’t a ‘nice to have’, but are actually increasingly fundamental to all areas of work. These skills are not acquired by osmosis. In many cases they can –  and should – be taught.

We can also learn from history. Today I’m in Birmingham to celebrate the granting of a Royal Charter to the Institute of Information Security Professionals (IISP). This follows a great tradition across the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries when Royal Charters were given to organisations which demonstrated the kind of quality and professionalism that singled them out from other occupations. That is why today we have chartered bodies for the likes of law, accountancy, banking and insurance, engineering, medicine, teaching, architecture, and surveying to name just some of the most prominent.

Such recognition acts as an important signpost for parents, teachers, further education colleges, universities and advisers to guide young people into areas that allow them to develop careers in fulfilling and rewarding fields of endeavour. I don't think it’s any coincidence that the UK, which has an abundance of these organisations, is seen as setting a gold standard for professional development and accreditation in professional services around the world.

While this remains invaluable, we also need to move with the times. In five or six years’ time, the most valuable employee will need to have an even greater and more diverse range of skills and experience. They might, for example, be a part-qualified accountant, part-qualified data scientist and part-qualified lawyer. That mix of skills today may not necessarily qualify them as a highly-skilled candidate in the traditional sense; more a jack of all trades. However, in future years, a person with such a breadth of skills and expertise will be invaluable. If I take the example of a sector we have been discussing today at the IISP event, cyber security, an individual with such a diversity of skills may bring the right competencies to a firm seeking people to effectively protect their business, data and customers from the increasing threat of cyber-attack or fraud.

Cyber security is a critical element of a wider area of increasing concern among firms: operational resilience. With the convergence of areas such as data security, IT systems and business continuity management, it is vital for firms to be confident that they have embedded the necessary culture, behaviours and processes to withstand, or recover quickly from, any disruption and that there are the right levels of regulation in place to support this. The Royal Charter for the IISP is a positive step in the right direction.

And, as well as cyber security experts, the industry is going to need the likes of more data scientists, data modellers, data engineers, and web technologists to help protect and defend and protect firms and the customers they serve. Part of the answer to this is for parents and teachers to encourage these roles in the way that they might encourage their children into law, engineering, medicine, or architecture. These are among the new skills which the industry will need, and which will help the UK to thrive in the global economy over the long term. There are great opportunities to be taken and it is essential that we take action now to build the workforce of the future.