Adaptability a key skill of the future

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Employers must equip employees with the ability to be flexible

Employees will need to become more adaptable to cope with the demands of the workplace of the future, according to Paul Donovan, global chief economist for UBS Wealth Management.

Speaking at the UBS Future of the Workforce 2016 event, Donovan explained that traditional learning methods do not deliver the kind of skills that will be required in the future.

"Flexibility in skills is one of the key requirements for success," he said. "If a person achieved a first class honours degree by memorising their textbook then they are a low-skilled worker. We are living in a rapidly-evolving environment, where that textbook could be out of date within five years' time. What education needs to do is teach people how to be adaptable."

In considering how the workplace will evolve, Donovan drew a parallel with the seismic changes brought by the industrial revolution. "Weavers would leave their idyllic country village for a dark, satanic mill in Manchester," he said. "Now they are leaving the mill of the office in Broadgate, and returning home to work."

He suggested workplaces will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to prejudice if they are to compete in the war for talent. "There is a balance between tolerance and prejudice that must be addressed," he said. "If your company is saying 'you're a brilliant economist, or a first class surgeon, but we don't like the colour of your skin, or your gender, or your sexuality' then you are turning away valuable skills. Those people in your business already who are the target of prejudice will underperform too."

Donovan warned of the risk of minorities becoming scapegoats if people lose their jobs to technology. "From that it is easy to get into anti-politics," he said. "Politicians say things like 'I will build a wall', or 'I will stop anyone of a [certain] religion coming into the country', which is nonsense economically."

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