In January, the World Economic Forum released a white paper on “Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to the World Economic Forum, “is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.”

The rapid evolution of new technologies means, according to Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, that “the nature of work is evolving,” requiring new skills as well as “new approaches to education, training and recruiting.” In response, IBM launched a “New Collar” initiative, which promotes newly created jobs in areas like cloud computing, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI).

The World Economic Forum reported that one-third of the skills required to perform modern jobs will be “wholly new” by 2020. The rate at which the tech sector has grown in recent years has created a significant skills gap, and as of November 2015, there were over half a million job openings in fields like software development, network administration and cybersecurity.

It will take a new, more flexible, approach to education and training to meet this demand. As the World Economic Forum put it, “Simply increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates within the framework of currently existing education systems is not a silver bullet for mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” We need alternative methods like coding bootcamps, certificate programs, ongoing employee development, internships and apprenticeships, vocational training, and other innovative programs.

In 2016, about 15 percent of IBM’s U.S. hires were “new collar” candidates without four-year degrees. Kelli Jordan, talent leader of IBM’s new collar initiatives, says that “colleges are only graduating something like one-tenth of the people we need” to fill open IT roles, so IBM is looking beyond just college graduates to hire otherwise qualified individuals, like community college graduates, bootcamp graduates and even self-taught IT professionals.

The Next Blue Collar?

In December, Wired columnist Clive Thompson wrote that “the next big blue-collar job is coding.” His argument was that organizations are focusing on the “wunderkinds” of Silicon Valley instead of the “proletariat” who can learn to code in alternate ways: “What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant?” Training would shift from requiring formal college-level education to focusing on vocational training at the secondary or community-college level for younger people and bootcamps for “midcareer folks.”

Rich DiTieri, CEO of Startup Institute, says that this type of training is especially useful for technical careers, because when you spend four or more years at a university studying technology, “by the time you’re done learning it, a lot of it is outdated.” On the other hand, when you attend a bootcamp or other program, you develop “a baseline understanding” of whatever technical skill you’re learning and can immediately be productive.

“There’s no better way to grow,” DiTieri says, “than getting really good at hiring high-potential people who can learn fast.” He believes that while they currently seem like “semi-unique alternative learning models,” soon, bootcamps “and even routine one-off classes at institutions that you trust” are the way of the future.

Room on the Circle

Renee Forney, CEO of The Forney Group and executive managing director of Equinox, Inc., points out that there’s a spectrum of technical jobs requiring a spectrum of training options. We need thought leaders with doctorates, and we need people with “the hands-on practical skills to execute in an operational environment. … And that’s where your new collar initiatives come into play.” Forney recently addressed Champlain College’s Continuing Professional Studies Class of 2017 on the importance of continuing education after receiving an honorary doctor of science and technology degree.

It’s also important to train IT employees on skills beyond the technical. “There has to be a focus on building the critical thinking skills and building an agile worker in order to survive” in the constantly-changing environment of today’s workplace. With automation permeating the workplace, those are the skills “that you can’t automate away.”

Other critical skills, according to IBM leaders, are problem-solving, teamwork, adaptability, communication, coachability, the ability to learn and what one calls “the ‘it’ factor, which is the ability to see a problem and/or issue not as a roadblock but as an opportunity.” Some of these skills, wrote Marc van Zaldehoff, general manager of IBM Security, in the Harvard Business Review, “simply can’t be taught in a classroom: unbridled curiosity, passion for problem solving, strong ethics, and an understanding of risks.” They can develop the technical skills through on-the-job training, certifications, bootcamps and other programs.

It’s impossible to know the future, but we do know that technology is quickly changing the workplace. In this fast-paced world, we need to be able to upskill technical employees quickly and effectively. It’s time to look beyond traditional education programs to build a workforce of technical employees who can lead our organizations through the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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