Transferable skills and the future of work

There continues to be a flurry of newspaper articles and studies of teh effect of automation and Artificial Intelligence on employment and jobs. There are different predictions about the scale of the change and particularly about the numbers of jobs which are at risk. One cause of the difference is disagreements about how many new jobs will be created, another is the speed of change. This may in part depend on whether employers choose to invest in new technologies: in teh UK productivity has remained persistently low, probably due to low wage rates.

What we do know is that organisations will need to cope with many of the changes associated with changes in the skill mix required of their employees  through learning through challenging work, training and continuing professional development etc. We also know that the changes mean it is difficult to imagine exactly how the labour market will look in say ten years but understanding the labour market can help people make sense of the context in which they are working or are seeking to work

At the same time we do not know the exact skill demands associated with unforeseen changes in the labour market, but we do know that new technical skills will be required, individuals and firms may need to specialise more to compete in global markets, and that demand will grow for ‘soft skills’ which are very difficult to automate, including complex social skills, cultural and contextual understanding, critical thinking, etc.

Yet this debate is not new. In the 1990s there were similar debates around teh move towards the ‘knowledge society’. At that time it was being predicted that low skilled work was set to rapidly decline, a prediction that pre-dated the rapid expansion in low skilled (or at any rate low paid) employment in the service sector. the answer at that time was seen to be promoting transversal skills and competences, variously called core skills, core competences etc. These emhpasised teh important of literacy and numeracy as well as communication skills and Information Technology. The problem was that such skills and competences were, in general abstracted from the curriculum as stand aone areas of learning, rather than being integrated within occupational learning. Of course, the other tendency n many Euroepan countries was to increase the number of young people going to university, at the expense of vocational educati0on and training.

What was needed then as now was to develop technical skills coupled with soft skills. Mastery of a technical skill is itself be a transferable skill whereby other technical skills can be developed more quickly as they are required . Developing latest industry-integrated technical skills is easiers if an underpinning technical knowledge base has been developed through more traditional educational provision. Retraining while in-work is very much easier than getting redundant people back into work.

Germany by Gerald Heidegger and Felix Rauner who looked at occupational profiles. Occupational profiles are in effect groups of competencies based on individual occupations. In Germany there are over 360 officially recognised occupations.

As long ago as 1996, Gerald Heidegger and Felix Rauner from the University of Bremen were commissioned by the Government of Rhineland Westphalia to write a Gutachten (policy advice) on the future reform and modernisation of the German Dual System for apprenticeship training.

They recommended less and broader occupational profiles and the idea of wandering occupational profiles. By this term they were looking to map the boundaries between different occupations and to recognise where competences from one occupation overlapped with that of another. Such overlaps could form the basis for boundary crossing and for moving from one occupation to another.

Heidegger and Rauner’s work was grounded in an understanding of the interplay between education, work organisation and technology. They were particularly focused on the idea of work process knowledge –  applied and practice based knowledge in the workplace. This was once more predicated on an idea of competence in which the worker would make conscious choices of the best actions to undertake in any particular situation (rather than the approach to competences in the UK which assumes there is always a ‘right way’ to do something).

Per Erik Ellstroem from Sweden put forward the idea of Developmental Competence – the capacity of the individual to acquire and demonstrate the capacity to act on a task  and the wider work environment in order to adapt, act and shape (design) it.

This is based on the pedagogic idea of sense making and meaning making through exploring, questioning and transcending traditional work structures and procedures. Rauner talked about holistic work tasks, based on the idea that a worker should understand the totality of the work process they are involved in.

In this respect it is interesting to see the results of recent research by Burning Glass, a company using AI and big data techniques to analyse labour market information. They say that in examine the role of Receptionist in Burning Glass Technologies’ labor market analysis tool, Labor Insight, “we can see that receptionists have a variety of related jobs they can do based on their transferable skills. Transferable skills are types of skills that a worker can use across many jobs, allowing them to more easily transition into a new role. A receptionist has many transferable skills such as administrative support, customer service, scheduling, data entry, and more. These transferable skills will allow a receptionist to move into related jobs such as Legal Secretary, Executive Assistant, or File Clerk.

According to Labor Insight, a Receptionist can transition into a Medical Secretary role which offers a higher average salary and is projected to grow by 22.5% in the next 10 years. This also offers an opportunity for the receptionist to venture into a new industry, allowing them to explore new health care roles such as Nursing Assistant, Emergency Room Technician, or Patient Service Representative.

The transferable skills that Burning Glass talk of are very similar to Rauner and Heidegger’s wandering occuaptional profiles. Rather than. as some commentators have suggested (see for example Faisal Hoque), a return to humanities based subjects in providing abstracted knowledge as the basis for future qualifications, the need is to improve vocational education and training which allows workers to understand the potentials of integrating automation and AI in the workplace. Creativity is indeed important, but creativity was always a key aspect of many jobs: creativity is part of the work process, not an external skill.

Empower to Shape Change: Learning and Identities in the Changing World of Work


As regular readers of this blog will know, Pontydysgu were members of a consortium in a project called EmployID, funded by the European Commission. The project focused on changing work identities in Public Employment services and how technology could be used to support Continuing Professional Development, including both formal learning and informal learning.

All too often such project produce a series of fairly unintelligible reports before they face away. We were determined not to replicate this pattern. Instead of producing a  series of annual reports for the EU based on different project work packages, for three years of the project we produced an an unified annual report in the form of an ebook.

And the EmployId Consultancy Network , formed out of the project has now produced a short book, designed for individuals and organisations interested in organisational transformations, changing identities and learning.

The EmployId Consultancy Network is a network of researchers, practitioners and trainers offering tailored services for solutions around facilitating staff development with the focus on professional identity transformation (among them are myself, Luis Manuel Artiles Martinez, Pablo Franzolini, Deirdre Hughes, Christine Kunzmann, John Marsh, Andreas P. Schmidt, Jordi Fernández Vélez, Ranko Markus, Karin Trier, Katarina Ćurković and Adrijana Derossi).

This is what the book is about:

The world of work is undergoing fundamental transformations.

For example, nurses have mostly chosen their job because they want to care for their patients, but their work now involves, to a large degree, computer-based documentation and quality assurance measures. Practitioners in public employment services turn from administrating unemployment benefits into coaches for their clients. And engineers need to make sense of large scale sensor data and assess the opportunities of artificial intelligence techniques for their companies’ future services.We see technological developments such as digitization and automation in an ever increasing number of sectors and intensity.

Are you embracing and shaping the change or are you being driven by it?

Companies and public sector organisations have to reshape their value creation processes and guide their employees to new job roles, creating an uncertain outlook. Ask yourself are you embracing and shaping change, or are you being driven by it? The ability to utilise modern technologies and methods is simply scratching the surface. Overcoming resistance to change, stressful conflicts, and lack of openness are major road blocks. We also need to look at a deeper level of learning. Employees need to rethink their job roles, their relationship to others, and what a successful working environment means to them.

Employees and Leaders need to take new approaches to match the new responsibilities

This indicates the importance of the professional identity of individuals and occupational groups. Employees are often not given opportunities to engage in reflective learning conversations. There is a need for workers to consider the emotional aspects of their work and identity. It is important that they also acquire the skills needed to work effectively with others to move from a problem focus to a solution focus and help each other in their learning process.

In this short book, we look at strategies to empower and shape change, including the role of technology and identity transformation for learning in the workplace.The contents of this book follow a deliberate path focusing on contemporary themes. It is aimed at practitioners, managers, researchers and policymakers.

You can download a free PDF copy of the book here. Or you can order the paperback version on Amazon for Euro 14.40.

Four domains of learning

four development domaninspng

I came upon this text today when I was seeking to extend on an article I was writing that included the idea of learning in four domains. It was produced, I think, for the EmployID MOOC on the Changing World of Work and was probably written by Alan Brown and Jenny Bimrose.Sadly, I was so tied up with producing my own materials for the MOOC and didn’t get to read all of the other peoples. But at a time when there is a growing need to question to division between humanities and technical subjects, I think this offers a good way forward.

Relational development – learning with and from interacting with other people

A major route for relational development is learning through interactions at work, learning with and from others (in multiple contexts) and learning as participation in communities of practice (and communities of interest) while working with others. Socialisation at work, peer learning and identity work all contribute to individuals’ relational development. Many processes of relational development occur alongside other activities but more complex relationships requiring the use of influencing skills, engaging people for particular purposes, supporting the learning of others and exercising supervision, management or (team) leadership responsibilities may benefit from support through explicit education, training or development activities.

Jack from the UK had switched career and now who worked as a carer. From the outset Jack learned much about his work from engaging with residents in the care home as well as learning from other staff. He had received letters from residents expressing their gratitude, which had boosted his confidence. His manager encouraged him to become a trainer in the care home, and although nervous and unsure he delivered the training and his self-efficacy increased.

Cognitive development – acquiring knowledge and thinking skills

A major work-related route for cognitive development involves learning through mastery of an appropriate knowledge base and any subsequent technical updating. This form of development makes use of learning by acquisition and highlights the importance of subject or disciplinary knowledge and/or craft and technical knowledge, and it will be concerned with developing particular cognitive abilities, such as critical thinking; evaluating; synthesising etc.

Bernard, a Czech automotive worker, participated in a short internal company technical training programme which positively surprised him in terms of practical outcomes and motivated him to actively work on his vocational development. ‘You had to know your stuff, the trainer was extremely competent, he knew his field very well, but sometimes I had difficulties to follow him. Anyway, it was really done by professionals who knew their stuff, and I appreciated it very much. I was very satisfied. I learned lots of things that were later very useful for my work […] It was very interesting to meet people from a completely different and a rather specialised area. I learned a lot of things and I was proud of it. I think this was the moment that made me change my attitude towards learning. I became much more curious.’

Practical development – learning by doing, by experience, by taking on challenges

For practical development the major developmental route is often learning on the job, particularly learning through challenging work. Learning a practice is also about relationships, identity and cognitive development but there is value in drawing attention to this idea, even if conceptually it is a different order to the other forms of development highlighted in this representation of learning as a process of identity development. Practical development can encompass the importance of critical inquiry, innovation, new ideas, changing ways of working and (critical) reflection on practice. It may be facilitated by learning through experience, project work and/or by use of particular approaches to practice, such as planning and preparation, implementation (including problem-solving) and evaluation. The ultimate goal may be vocational mastery, with progressive inculcation into particular ways of thinking and practising, including acceptance of appropriate standards, ethics and values, and the development of particular skill sets and capabilities associated with developing expertise.

Davide, an Italian carpenter, saw learning as a practice-based process driven by curiosity, a spirit of observation, and trial and error. A major role was played by his passion for the transformation of matter, which he perceived as an almost sacred event: ‘It really struck me to see that from a piece of wood one can create a piece of furniture’.

Emotional development – making sense of your own feelings and how others feel 

For emotional development, the major developmental routes are learning through engagement,  reflexiveness that leads to greater self-understanding, and the development of particular personal qualities. Much emotional development may occur outside work, but the search for meaning in work, developing particular mind-sets, and mindfulness may be components of an individual’s emotional development. Particular avenues of development could include understanding the perspectives of others, respect for the views of others, empathy, anticipating the impact of your own words and actions, and a general reflexiveness, which includes exploring feelings. Identity development at work may also be influenced by changing ideas individuals have about their own well-being and changing definitions of career success (Brown & Bimrose 2014).

Henrik from Denmark switched career, moving into caring and developed a new relationship with his work, which he found much more emotionally engaging. While studying for his skilled worker qualification, Henrik immersed himself in individual assignments of his own choice. In one assignment, he developed a ‘product’ to help improve a pupil’s ability to communicate, an ability which was being lost due to a rare disease. When Henrik talked about the assignment he was very engaged and showed insight into the syndrome. Because the assignment was closely related to his experience and practice, he saw meaning in undertaking it: ‘It was as though there was a circle I could complete on my own.’ He received a top grade for the assignment, and it is evident that positive learning experiences and the perception of entering into learning processes that are meaningful to his life and work situation are strong motivating factors in his engagement in further learning.

Happy birthday, Graham Attwell

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …

Happy birthday, Graham Attwell

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …