Education cannot keep pace with the evolution of work. And this isn’t something we can ignore like the ‘cool kids’ at the back of the class.

There’s a well-documented, growing skills gap across the board, but especially in industries like technology and cybersecurity. Adding an extra layer of complexity, new job roles are being created far faster than any curriculum – vocational or otherwise – can keep up with.

A recent ‘job of the future’ report predicted that in the very near future we could see roles created such as a work-from-home facilitator, a fitness commitment counsellor, an algorithm bias auditor and even a cyber calamity forecaster. These are just a few examples of roles that will require skills many of us do not currently have.

Luckily there are ways to bridge the growing skills gap, plan for roles you don’t even know about yet and start solving this problem now before it’s too late.

The future isn’t what it used to be

Most of the jobs that will be prominent in the near future have yet to be invented. Think back to 20 years ago, and many of the jobs we have now would have seemed alien. A social media manager for instance would have sounded unlikely.

Over time some jobs will become outdated, and new roles will always arise. To advance with the times and stay ahead of the competition, HR and business leaders need to proactively manage their future workforce.

Upskilling and reskilling employees is effective for business growth. Not only does it help retain top talent, encourage employee engagement, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to solve the growing skills gap. By promoting continued development within culture, businesses can boost job satisfaction, remain competitive and unlock the full potential of their existing workforce.

Shifting focus from hard skills to soft and transferable skills – like the ability to learn and adapt quickly – is another key enabler for building a future-fit workforce.

Hard skills, like calculations and documentation, can be automated. But machines cannot replace soft skills such as etiquette, communication and listening, which are crucial success factors in any role.

Take web developers for example. Many companies still hire for technical skills alone, but this is just one aspect of what developers bring to the table. Many are also able to leverage transferable skills like leadership, creative problem-solving, and communication skills which are critical to their success. By turning a blind eye to these types of enabling skills, many companies are jeopardising their chances of future-proofing their workforces.

Invest in the skills of the future

Advances in technology have been the need for reskilling and upskilling for years. Technology can play a huge role in helping HR leaders understand the skills they actually need to succeed now and in the future, and how to take their business to the next level.

But we also need educators to support this from the grass-roots level. Our future workforce is not being educated in the skills needed for the future. Current curricula at schools and universities still imply that the only way to succeed is with ‘hard skills’ or by achieving qualifications in specific subjects.

Take the gaming industry, which is expected to exceed $200 billion by the end of 2023. More and more young people are embarking on careers in this growing industry. But with computing and design relegated to the sidelines in educational systems, the tools and knowledge to prepare them to do so are missing.

This is why it’s critical we focus on soft skills over the “hard skills” stereotypically associated with degrees and higher education. Success is not defined by what is listed on a CV, but rather the attributes of individuals and what they can bring to the table.

Technology enables HR leaders to get a clearer picture of areas in which upskilling and reskilling can take place. Certain types of tools can help identify areas where training is needed, as well as leadership potential for current and future employees. Over time, this leads to better management and development opportunities, helping businesses prepare for the future.

Mentorship programs are also another great way to invest in the skills of the future. Connecting experienced employees with wider teams bolsters a sense of community, while also establishing training initiatives. Encouraging a bottom-up approach, through self-training for instance, can also help. Having a clear direction for the skills teams actually want to work on will give managers vital guidance in how to build a learning culture.

Navigating the 2020s

While we don’t have a crystal ball to predict the roles of the future, HR leaders can get ahead of the game and build a workforce that’s suited for whatever lies ahead. By understanding their people’s existing skills and cultivating those that best equip them for future eventualities, businesses will put themselves in the best possible position to succeed.