Life & work
Foreseeing the future has always been the domain of clairvoyants and fortune-tellers. Yet, a lot of economists and market analysts today take on this difficult task, in an attempt to anticipate future business trends and challenges.
New times call for new solutions, ways of approaching problems and skills that were never seen as “core” in the workplace of the past. Therefore, in response to the changing world of work, a number of global institutions and organisations have set out to determine what skills will be necessary to stay relevant in the labour market. In Europe for instance, the Council of the European Union has adopted a reference framework of key competences for lifelong learning, which are considered fundamental for: personal fulfilment, healthy lifestyle, employability and social inclusion. As explained in the Council Recommendation of 22 May 2018, “People need the right set of skills and competences to sustain current standards of living, support high rates of employment and foster social cohesion in the light of tomorrow’s society and world of work.” The “key competences” have been defined as a combination of skills, knowledge and attitudes, which can be acquired and developed throughout life. According to the Council Recommendation, nowadays it is vital to develop competence in the following areas:
It is worth noting that the above list comprises not only hard skills related to STEM education (in science, technology, engineering and mathematics) but also a range of transferable soft skills – otherwise called “employability skills” – which help an individual adapt to changing circumstances and environments. As pointed out in the mentioned Council Recommendation, “Nowadays, competence requirements have changed with more jobs being subject to automation, technologies playing a bigger role in all areas of work and life, and entrepreneurial, social and civic competences becoming more relevant in order to ensure resilience and ability to adapt to change.” The Council of the European Union has also stressed the importance of effective communication, creative thinking or intercultural competence, namely a set of skills which are essentially human and can hardly be replaced by automated algorithms. The rapid rise of artificial intelligence in business has raised widespread concerns about job loss due to automation – a worrying vision amplified by catchy media headlines, announcing the soon end of the human workforce. On the other hand, however, a growing number of job market experts have begun to underline the relevance of the “human touch”, which is to be complemented, rather than mimicked or replicated by technological solutions. Already in 2011, the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley-based think tank, raised a few questions, pondering the human role in the AI era: “What are humans uniquely good at? What is our comparative advantage? And what is our place alongside these machines?” (The Institute for the Future, Future Work Skills 2020, 2011). The answers to some of these considerations may be found in the “Future of Jobs” report by the World Economic Forum, aiming to identify the most in-demand skills of 2022: “Proficiency in new technologies is only one part of the 2022 skills equation, however, as ‘human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.” (The World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs Report, 2018).
There can be no doubt that formal education plays a major role in shaping young people’s attitudes, opinions and mindsets. However, learning is not confined to the walls of a classroom and it is when we dive into adult life and find ourselves in a multitude of unexpected contexts and situations that we can put our skills to the test. Therefore, it seems logical to conclude that a different cultural setting can provide one of the best learning environments for expats at all life stages. In fact, few challenges in life require a greater amount of emotional resilience, flexibility and openness to other viewpoints than a relocation to a foreign country. Not only does it involve dealing with a number of legal formalities and practicalities, but also bridging cultural differences, and more often than not – overcoming language barriers on an everyday basis. The impact of informal learning processes on employability cannot be overstated – studies show that even short-term mobility programmes (such as the popular Erasmus+, Leonardo da Vinci or the European Voluntary Service) are considered highly beneficial for both personal and professional development. According to a report published by the Foundation for the Development of the Education System (FRSE), around 60% of former interns state that working in a foreign country has enhanced their problem-solving skills and preparedness to handle unusual or difficult situations. Additionally, almost three quarters of the respondents have increased their cultural competence by working in an international work environment and nearly all participants believe they have improved their foreign language skills during the internship (M.Pachocki, Mobilność kluczem do kariery?, FRSE, 2018).
All the above goes to show that expat skills and experiences might be a source of competitive advantage in the future job market. Most importantly however, expatriates seem to be well prepared for the challenges of the coming years – as observed by the Institute for the Future, “In a truly globally connected world, a worker’s skill set could see them posted in any number of locations – they need to be able to operate in whatever environment they find themselves.” (The Institute for the Future, Future Work Skills 2020, 2011).