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Every sector and every industry is rapidly transforming under the influences of automation, artificial intelligence, and data science. To succeed in the workplace of the future, workers will need to be equipped with hybrid sets of job skills that span across an array of subject areas and industries.

Additionally, the skills any one employee needs will change often throughout their career as the business landscape continues to evolve. This means learning must expand beyond the classroom to become a lifelong experience, and workers must continue to learn on the job in modular, flexible increments to keep pace with the speed of change.

We are already starting to see education transform through the work of massive open online course (MOOC) providers and their institutional partners. As these providers are able to offer standalone certificates and credit-eligible courses, MOOCs are a new path for career success in the workplace of the future.

Modular, Interdisciplinary Learning Will Be Key to Career Mobility

Today, the most sought-after professionals exist at the intersection of traditionally unrelated professions. For example, the role of a cybersecurity professional requires a mix of IT training, data analysis, and industry-sector expertise. As another example, the role of a data scientist requires a mix of data analysis, machine learning, and industry-sector experience. In the case of managers in these and other emerging fields, soft skills must be thrown into the mix as well.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cybersecurity jobs are predicted to have a 28 percent growth rate between 2016 and 2026 — nearly three times the average predicted growth rate across all other occupations. The role of data scientist is expected to grow at a similarly exponential rate: In the US alone, as many as 250,000 open data science jobs could be available by 2024. Both of these examples demonstrate the high level of demand we are seeing for job candidates with hybrid skill sets.

A new report from Burning Glass Technologies further supports these predictions of growth in hybrid fields. According to the report, jobs of all types will grow by 10 percent over the next decade, whereas hybrid jobs will grow by 21 percent. Burning Glass also notes that these hybrid roles “carry major salary premiums” and are the “most resistant to automation” due to the unique skill sets they require.

To get these coveted hybrid jobs of the future, today’s employees will need to upskill and reskill. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to pursue modular education opportunities.

Modular education unbundles the traditional degree program into smaller building blocks of learning, each with their own credentials, learnings, and skill outcomes. Working professionals especially can benefit from this type of education, as it allows them to learn flexibly while continuing to work. There is no need to take time off or accumulate student loan debt to get an entirely new degree. Moreover, because hybrid jobs require hybrid skill sets spanning multiple domains, modular education is well-suited for the kind of mixing and matching across fields employees will have to do to become qualified for hybrid roles.

Employers Must Also Leverage Modular Education to Help Future-Proof Existing Employees

Employers globally need to recognize that modular learning should be adopted internally to optimize existing employees’ skill sets for the future and foster continued growth. Learning and knowledge-sharing need to be continuous experiences in today’s ever-evolving environment.

Due to the rapid pace of technological change, workers will need to continually learn new skills and refresh their existing abilities in order to stay relevant. Otherwise, organizations may find themselves operating with outdated talent. In-house learning and development programs are therefore becoming high-priority investments for organizations.

According to Harvard Business Publishing’s “2018 State of Leadership Development” report, 66 percent of organizations that see learning and development as critical to their long-term success feel they have a stronger market position than their competitors do. As organizations start to look for ways to expand their learning and development efforts, businesses should consider online learning and modular education tools to be leveraged for in-house success — both for the sake of their employees’ professional growth and for the sake of their own bottom lines.

If there is one takeaway in all this, it is that education is not static. In the future, employers will increasingly look for the diverse skills employees know rather than the specific degrees they possess. Modular learning will be ideal for working professionals who want to update their skill sets to suit the shifting job market, and for employers heading into an excitingly unpredictable future.

Anant Agarwal is the CEO of edX and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.



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