Exploring Technical Careers and College, Programming, Engineering Design, Creative Robotics, and all Hands-On STEM Education Strategies
Virginia Tech's DC Metro Area Thinkabit Lab STEM Education and Workforce Development Programs is the longest-serving collaborator in the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab network. The mission of our Thinkabit Lab is to serve Washington, D.C. area students, teachers, administrators, parents, and collaborators in technical career exploration and the hands-on electronic and programming foundations of IOT and Smart Cities, AI and robotics automation, sensors, actuators, and data collection and analysis.
In doing so, we are preparing our future STEM workforce and our increasingly diverse, technology-driven community for jobs that may not yet exist. The VT-DC STEM Labs team will work with like-minded teams, organizations and individuals interested in promoting curiosity, innovation, creativity, and students’ self-actualization and self-determination.
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
7 Skills for 2019
The gift of knowledge: 7 skills for 2019
Help your team minimize busywork and build meaningful careers
By Antoinette Siu
Employees need new skills to thrive in today’s rapidly changing
Soft skills like leadership and adaptability are as
important as coding and data analysis
Workers can acquire
these new skills on the job or through independent programs
As technology and automation transform knowledge work, lifelong
learning is becoming an essential component of any successful career.
But with limited time, what chops should you and your team focus on?
Experts point to a core set of skills—from the technical to the
social—that will help keep workers current and prepare them for
continued professional growth. Some, like programming and data
analytics, are byproducts of the digital era. Others are social skills
like communication, collaboration, flexibility, leadership, and
creative thinking, all of which give people a comparative advantage
over intelligent machines.
These are the top skills to learn in 2019.
It’s no secret that software developers are a prized commodity, and
that demand for their skills will only increase. But in tomorrow’s
workplace, coding will no longer be the sole preserve of professional
coders. The McKinsey Global Institute forecasts that time
spent using programming skills in the U.S. will grow by an estimated
60% over the next 12 years, virtually guaranteeing that basic coding
literacy will become essential for scores of jobs.
As technology permeates every industry and profession—from
healthcare to insurance and from marketing to logistics—basic coding
skills will be necessary for everything from sketching prototypes to
developing models for data analysis and controlling automation tools
There are many job‑specific programming languages. If your work
doesn’t have an obvious fit, encourage employees to pick a general
purpose programming language like Python or Ruby. There are plenty of
online training options including Udacity, Coursera, and Khan
Academy, and scores of intensive boot camps to choose from. An
extra benefit: any programming course will also strengthen a worker’s
data analysis skills.
Data is the fuel that powers the digital economy. It’s no surprise
that data scientists and data analysts are among the most sought after professionals today,
according to numerous studies. Of course, not everyone needs a Ph.D.
in data analytics. But to be effective in today’s knowledge workplace,
employees need to become more and more comfortable with data.
Take marketing, which used to rely heavily on gut instinct.
Increasingly, a good marketer must be able to sift through mounds of
data and present findings in multiple, interactive formats. With
virtual dashboards popping up everywhere, hands‑on experience with
data analytics is also becoming essential in fields like human
resources, sales, customer relations, finance, retail, and more. As
with coding, educational opportunities abound, online and offline, at
universities and through boot camps or nanodegrees.
User experience design
Technology has helped turn scores of ordinary products and services
into digital experiences. What was once a paper form to sign up for
insurance, for example, has now become an online process that guides a
customer through a series of steps. Similarly, a modern check‑in at a
hotel is an experience that may combine human contact with a
smartphone app that doubles as a digital key and sets defaults for
your favorite music and temperature once you enter your room.
Because user experience designers think about why and how people use
their products, they need chops that blend interactive design with
product development. There are plenty of places where workers can hone
their design skills, whether learning on the job or formally through
online certification programs.
Tackling the technical skills behind product design requires knowing
how to create user surveys and coming up with prototypes. Workers can
start with easy‑to‑use online tools like Flinto or Marvel that are rich with tutorials.
One of the paradoxes of the digital age is that the job market
increasingly values “soft” skills such as flexibility, collaboration,
and creativity. Interpersonal skills like empathy, for example, are
expected to become increasingly critical in fields ranging from
nursing to teaching and financial planning, according
to career expert and author George Anders. Employees who can
relate equally well to customers and co‑workers will see their stars
rise, says a research report from the Brookings Institution.
Project‑based learning, especially in a collaborative setting, is a
good way to start sharpening social and emotional skills. If there are
people you manage who could stand to improve their soft skills,
consider pairing them with more socially adept colleagues on projects
instead of having them work as individual contributors.
For most workers, the days of being successful by being really good
at one thing are coming to an end. As the pace of change in the
workplace picks up, the ability to switch gears and juggle multiple
projects has become critical to professional success.
No line of work will be immune. Programmers, for instance, will need
to adapt with changes in popular languages and computing frameworks.
As work tools change and business models evolve, the same is true for
designers and media workers, advertising professionals and retail
specialists. McKinsey says businesses are increasingly
valuing workers adept at “continuous learning” as all sorts of jobs
are being redefined.
There’s evidence workers understand the imperative. Three quarters
of knowledge workers surveyed by PwC say they’re ready to learn new skills or
retrain to stay employable in future years. As a leader, one way to
cultivate adaptability is to put people on multiple, smaller projects,
and on work in areas outside their core comfort zones.
While tech has made incredible strides in helping us communicate and
work more effectively, it can’t replace human leadership. The ability
to mentor and motivate, to provide constructive feedback and to
negotiate effectively are still essential—and, for the foreseeable
future, out of reach of even the most intelligent machines.
Leadership skills will be increasingly important as managers work to
shepherd employees into new modalities of work and into an age of
human‑machine collaboration. It appears most managers aren’t yet up to
the challenge: Nearly 20% of firms say their
executives don’t have the knowledge to lead adoption of automation and
AI. Many professional associations and private organizations offer a
host of seminars and workshops focused on leadership development.
Creativity is likely to remain out of the reach of machines longer
than any other skill. As a result, employers will value it more and
more in their workers. In fact, McKinsey predicts that
demand for creativity will grow faster than demand for any other top
cognitive skill by 2030, affecting roles ranging from public relations
to mobile experience design.
Creativity comes in many forms, and even the most experienced
workers will benefit from sharpening their chops. Try to organize
brainstorming activities for your team, either structured discussions
or rapid ideation sessions. The exercises will help employees develop
the ability to find unorthodox solutions to problems.
Antoinette Siu is a Bay Area journalist covering business and policy.