How can you overcome the transformation of skills?

The release of a new public version of ChatGPT has generated a lot of discussion, particularly regarding an “unprecedented disruption” of the job market. These projections have sparked multiple questions: Will humans be overtaken by technology? Who will lose their jobs? What new professions and new skills will emerge? What should be taught and learned to adapt?

This text will not attempt to answer these questions, but rather reflect on what they reveal about the phenomenon of skill transformation. Indeed, debates like the current one around AI come up every time a new technology appears, ultimately interrogating the link we’ve traditionally established between  school-based skills and the job market.

👩‍🏫What’s this transformation of skills about exactly?

The transformation of skills refers to the ongoing process of changes and adaptations that occur in the job market and the skills required to succeed in it. This process is driven by a variety of factors, including technological advancements, changes in the economy, and evolving social and cultural trends.

What does it mean for (future) workers?

The transformation of skills requires individuals and organizations to be flexible and adaptable in order to keep up with changes in the job market. This can include investing in ongoing education and training, seeking out new opportunities to develop skills and gain experience, and staying informed about emerging trends and technologies in their field.

Can you give me an example?

After ChatGPT came out, a study by Cornell University concluded that nearly 80% of professional roles will see at least 10% of their tasks directly transformed by AI tomorrow. And 50% of the task of the remaining 20% would be impacted.

It also created a wave of predictions, formulated by people that are more or less legitimate on the topic, but who had some ideas on what jobs would emerge thanks to this new technology.

Among others, here are two examples of skills that could emerge due to AI technologies like ChatGPT: 

  • Data labeling. E.g. Someone that flags AI-generated texts as accurate or inaccurate to improve its responses. 
  • Prompt engineering. E.g. A person able to customize ChatGPT queries to adapt them to a business’ needs.

🤔Does it mean I should quit school and start learning “data labeling” right now?

Not really. The thing is that narratives about the transformation of skills keep repeating themselves, meaning they shouldn’t be taken too seriously, or at least that we should give ourselves some time to adapt and actually take time to introduce a new technology into our lives before creating 100% new scholar programmes or jobs. This happened before with many other things.

Sure, but this one isn’t this wave supposed to be as big as the Internet?

That’s what many people are predicting, but the thing is, when looking at the big picture, the Internet didn’t change the global job market as much as expected.

How so?

The American economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman found that even though the Internet generated some economic growth, it failed to produce the productivity boom that people expected to happen thanks to its rise (yes, that’s also what we’re expecting from AI today). In short, we tend to get excited about information technology, but its repercussions on the real economy aren’t that visible, especially in the wealthiest countries.

What else?

Others underline that despite all the hype around its capacities, information technology developments rely on an invisible, and usually discriminated, workforce. This phenomena is important, when speaking of the transformation of skills, because it highlights that sought-out skills don’t only change depending on technological trends, but also according to socio-economics.

What’s an example of socio-economics influencing sought-out skills?

For example, software programming was perceived as a linguistics job similar to typewriting, hence most developers were female. Back in 1946, a group of six female computers – at the time, the word still indicated “the skill/job of computing” – created the first-ever form of AI for NASA: the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). Until a documentary came out about their accomplishments in 2023, they didn’t get any recognition for programming outbreaking products for NASA.

Now, most developers are male and well-paid.

Yes, and since the skill of programming became “sexy”, the number of coding schools and classes has exploded. But history is repeating itself: the company that built ChatGPT, OpenAI, paid a Kenya-based data labeling service to ingest massive amounts of AI-generated answers, moderate these answers, and flag them if they were offensive. Those data labellers were paid between $1.32 and $2 per hour, and their work was revealed thanks to journalistic investigations, not the founders of OpenAI.

💡Skills and jobs continuously change.

Exactly, everything regarding the job/skill market changes all the time, slowly but surely, as the term “transformation of skills” suggests. And it looks like we got used to it: the French philosopher Julia de Funès explains that people working today are already more comfortable with that concept than the former generation of workers. For example, a study by LinkedIn found that workers aged 25-34 in the United States had an average tenure of just 2.8 years with their current employer, while workers aged 55-64 had an average tenure of 10.1 years.

Why is that?

According to another French philosopher, Céline Marty, we were disappointed by the promises the school-job-parenting-society apparatus made to us about jobs. Three main trends explain that: they’re not accessible to everyone that studies for them, they don’t guarantee a decent quality of living regardless of your social origins, and even though they are less harmful for our bodies, they are more damaging to our mental health.

Linear careers aren’t trending anymore.

Exactly. And Julia explains that it’s due to the change of perception about what jobs should be. For our parents, they were an end, but for us, they should be a means to another end: our well-being, at both individual and society levels. And that makes us see skills in a very different light.  We don’t pursue skills to work jobs hoping for a thriving career. Instead, we pursue skills to work jobs that will make us feel better. And to accomplish that, the best skill is to be accepting of uncertainty.

🧘‍♂️How can I master the art of uncertainty?

To answer that, we read a book written by podcast host Victoria Guillomon, which she wrote between 18-22 years old, What we don’t learn in school – Young people see the world differently (for now, it’s only available in French). She tells us how she realized she never knew, and will probably never know, what and where she wants to be “in the next five years”.  However, she might have an idea of who she wants to be according to a sum of values that she knows contributes to her own, and society’s, well-being.

What does it mean?

Victoria says that “accepting that we do not know what our life will be made of turns out to be essential later on.” She puts this principle in opposition to the rigidity imposed by the idea that jobs should match what we learned at school. For her, it doesn’t make sense to think like that, because of the transformation of skills phenomena, that’s continuously ongoing.

I wonder what a school teaching that could look like.

It already exists. Agora is a Dutch school where children decide what they study and how, regardless of their age, with a coach they choose from an educational team that’s at their disposal.

Does it work?

The Agora school hasn’t been around long enough to compare the career/life of its students to those of a traditional school. However, the children report that they have more confidence in themselves since attending school there, and that there is no school bullying. Coaches observe that children are especially doing well with soft skills such as empathy, communication, teamwork, intellectual and manual agility… Perhaps the perfect recipe to master uncertainty?

🙋‍♂️🙋‍♀️While you’re here, we also have questions we’d like to ask you.

When it comes to projecting yourself doing a (new) job, are you in the “wait and see” team, happy to start with mastering uncertainty? Or are you more of a planner and always know what’s next?

Share your thoughts with us by taking our survey. It’s led by The Higher Education for Good Foundation whose purpose is to give the youth a platform to express themselves, to be part of the change they want to see, and to start building, together, a more sustainable society. All answers will contribute to a white paper that will be read by the OECD, the European Commission, and other major youth organizations.