Just 5% of the main skills job candidates need today will be the same in three years, McKinsey says

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When it comes to AI implementation, much has been made of the gap between what most workers—particularly the youngest ones, the fresh college grads—have to offer, and what future-minded companies need. On whom, between the employer and the employee, does the onus rest for ensuring workers have the skills they need to be competitive?

To McKinsey partner Anu Madgavkar, it’s both. “It’s becoming more and more clear that companies aren’t going to find perfect unicorns,” she said during the consultancy’s media day last week. “This perfect person you’re looking for to fit the slot you had in mind—that person doesn’t exist.”

Most hiring managers are realizing that they’ll need to both be able to predict which attributes a candidate has and is likely to have down the line. “Maybe it’s nothing to do with their education or credentials—maybe it’s about things like what experiences they might have had, and using science to predict that, rather than expecting that perfect candidate.”

Given the looming shifts in the workforce landscape, the future could be bleak, even for white collar workers. A McKinsey report from last year found that many companies think they have only 5% of the skills they’ll need over the next three years, Brooke Weddle, a senior McKinsey partner, said during a discussion last week. “That’s a very low number, and just reinforces the case for change.”

The mismatch brings to mind a revolutionary approach to hiring: Leading with skills, or the potential for skills, as has been endorsed by leaders at IBM, Microsoft and Google, just to name a few. Skills-based hiring—or even potential-based hiring—is not altruistic, Madgavkar emphasized. “You have to do that if you intend to fill your talent pipeline.”

Leading organizations are much more analytical during the talent selection process, Weddle added. “They’re really testing for learning agility as a key skill and mindset. Across the board, people want more aptitude in terms of learning mindset.” That also, often, means a revamped workplace culture. “So many CEOs are talking about the need to instill continuous learning as a mindset across the organization, thinking, ‘this is how we win in the marketplace.’” 

That trend is likely to only gain steam, Weddle said, because “the fact of the matter is, even if you get that unicorn today, that’s not the unicorn you’ll need next year. Not without agility and learning.”

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