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Your job’s tech skills will look totally different 5 years from now, LinkedIn’s chief economist says. But soft skills will never go out of style

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You can’t separate the economic signals from the skills-based revolution.

So said Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s chief economist, at a fireside chat centered on the future of work hosted by the job site Monday morning. As the labor market loosens, it will remain vital to job applicants to emphasize their skill set and ensure it matches what employers are looking for.

“We’re seeing the importance of people skills, human skills, perceptiveness, ethical trade-offs, problem solving,” Kimbrough said during the conversation with LinkedIn editor-in-chief Dan Roth. “What I’m thinking of when I look into 2024 is the importance of both people skills and [digital] skills going hand in hand.”

Alongside soft skills—which never go out of fashion—digital skills in particular will be top of mind as the AI revolution continues unabated. Kimbrough, an economist who has worked at Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and the New York Fed, said she predicts that five years from now, working the same job will call for a 25% change in required digital skills. For today’s workers, that means they must invest in themselves now to hone those additional 25% of skills before it’s too late—or the percentage climbs even higher.

“If skills are changing this rapidly, it means we have to invest in ourselves, and invest in learning,” Kimbrough said. “There’s not that much AI talent out there.”

That doesn’t mean employers expect—or will expect—every employee to become AI experts, she said. But they will likely expect most of their workforce to be “AI literate.” As a result, the expectation of lifelong learning “is here now, because things are changing too quickly, and you’ll need to continuously upgrade.”

That may be daunting to bosses, but it’s critical. “In many ways, technology and AI are moving faster than real life,” Andy Bird, CEO of education giant Pearson, told Fortune earlier this year. “We’re struggling to catch up, and the impact that has on us both as individuals and as companies is the need to continually re-skill and upskill.”

Since November 2022, LinkedIn job postings calling for AI skills have grown 21-fold, largely in the tech sector, Kimbrough said. “That’s a massive increase,” she added. “What struck me most is how we are seeing AI skills diffuse across different industries. We're seeing it in manufacturing, retail, finance—it's everywhere.”

Workers are more curious than scared

At this juncture, companies have a choice on how bullish they’re going to be, and which kinds of skills they will value and funnel resources into. A recent Randstad report found that just one in ten workers have been offered training opportunities to familiarize themselves with AI like ChatGPT, despite their desire to learn more.

But some companies are reading the writing on the wall and launching into the next phase of business. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said AI will soon be critical for work, and IBM has vowed to train 2 million people in AI over the next three years with free online training.

“It's kind of like a write-your-own adventure,” Kimbrough said. “We can be really intentional about acknowledging that there are going to be winners and losers. And we can decide, how do we display competence, or how do we mitigate some of the transitions? Or we can let it happen and see where we adapt.”

It will be incumbent upon companies to decide whether they invest in upskilling the people they have, and ensuring they continue to hire equitably, because anyone can learn basic AI skills. “I mean, it's just like an open field, right?” Kimbrough said. “It's not like there's enough expertise in AI that [they] can just pull from a market that's already there. They can invest in anybody who wants to [learn].”

CEOs aren’t immune; they need to learn just as much as rank-and-file workers, Kimbrough added.

Indeed, if you’re hoping to be a future-focused business leader, “you need to force yourself” to use AI, Nicolai Tangen, CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, told Fortune earlier this year. “If you’re an older person, and you don’t really have experience, get some of the young guys to help you,” Tangen advised. It’s ultimately a good thing that the advancements of AI have “kind of turned the value of seniority upside down a bit,” he added—bosses just need to make the effort.

It’s well-documented that workers appreciate employers that invest in their training and upskilling. That’s particularly vital during a time of record-low company tenure—Kimbrough pointed out that younger generations are much likelier to leave a company after a short period of time than older generations.

“But I think what’s different now is that there is less siloing between industries and more fungibility of skills,” she said. “The fact that technology is now pervading so many different sectors, all these industries are looking for digital skills. Younger workers have all this time to play around with tech, and they can take it to any sector.”

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