How to leverage your skills in the post-knowledge AI economy

Bozhanka Vitanova

Founder & CEO at TeamLift, Alumni, Global Shapers Community

Kes Sampanthar

Managing Director, BCG Brighthouse

This article is republished from the World Economic Forum   under a Creative Commons license.

We can enable a skills-based economy that fosters cooperation and innovation, drives progress in various fields, and ultimately benefits both companies and individuals while enabling a more merit-based system of building wealth.

Picture starting your day by logging into a skills market. You receive an update on the value of your skills portfolio and then browse through projections of which skills are likely to increase or decrease in value.

In your case, programming in Java, cloud computing, and fluent Mandarin are the current top performers. Those verified skills in your skill portfolio can serve as collateral for your loan application, or as proof of financial resources for your rental application.

That future may not be as distant as you think. The rapid advancement of technology is driving us towards a post-knowledge economy, where skills are becoming equivalent to currency.

Skills as a currency is a concept rooted in the idea that skills have intrinsic value and can be exchanged in the future economy.

Just as one must invest and manage their money wisely to achieve financial success, individuals and organizations have to invest in and manage their skills to achieve work success.

An infrastructure for a skills-based economy could address multiple equity or societal challenges, like opportunity inequality.

With this infrastructure, every person, in any part of the world – no matter if they are a 20-year-old in a rural part of the United States or a 50-year-old in an Asian metropolis – could have a fair shot at building wealth through the one thing that is very much within their control: their skills.

The role of skills in creating prosperity

Skills have always been part of human development, and have evolved as we invented new types of technologies. We are genetically hard-wired to work and with each new technology, we routinize aspects of existing work, while also opening up new types of work opportunities.

The evolution of technology has brought about profound changes in the nature of work, introducing new fields and opportunities and fundamentally altering the ways people earn a living.

From simple physical tools, like ploughs, to automated machines in factories and computing tools for programming and design, our tools have undergone multiple transformations.

The progress of technology has created specialized skills, as emerging industries and job options demand expertise in new domains. As a result, the nature of work is constantly evolving, and individuals need to acquire new skills to stay current with the demands of a changing market.

This latest wave of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and Web3, is poised to accelerate change faster than ever before, bringing the interlacing of skills and technologies closer than they have ever been.

We’re entering an era of intelligent tools, where the boundaries between human and machine become increasingly blurred.

This development is significant because the skills required in this new landscape will be a combination of specialized human skills and augmented skills customized to the individual, like what we are already seeing with generative AI.

In other words, skills will depend on both what’s in a person’s mind and what they have trained the machine to do.

Skills as a standard measure of value

As the nature of work has changed, so have the ways in which people exchange goods and services.

Mediums of exchange, acting as standardized measures of value, have facilitated economic growth and development, promoting cooperation and innovation among individuals and societies through history.

Multiple shifts are fundamentally changing the nature of work in this post-knowledge economy. One significant shift is the way individuals earn an income. According to Upwork, a record high of 39% of the US workforce, equivalent to 60 million employees, participated in freelance work in 2022.

Fractional hiring is another concept gaining popularity, where part-time employees contribute a fixed number of hours to a company. With the rising rates of inflation, Bloomberg reports that nearly 50% of US workers engage in activities for supplemental income. The report estimates that side hustles result in more than $50 billion a month in extra earnings.

The gig marketplace is one of the first places where we have started witnessing the emergence of the “skills as a currency” phenomenon. Upwork reports that sales and business development, data entry, accounting, and 3D animation are some of the most in-demand skills on their platform.

Furthermore, recent advances in technology have created new types of skills. For example, prompt engineering, a new skill related to the ability to write “prompts” for tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which can be saved as presets for clients to use later, can be worth up to $335,000 per year.

Both the new changing nature of employment and skills-based earning create a new paradigm where employees are hired based on their ability to deliver specific skills or results, rather than just for their time. This way, skills become increasingly recognized as a measure of value in the labour market.

A skills framework for the future

For skills to become a marketable asset tied to a digital currency, there are key infrastructure solutions missing. These include:

Standardization: The first component of this infrastructure is a universal skills language, which requires a standardized framework for organizing and categorizing skills. This could be achieved through evolving ontologies that enable a shared language for skills across companies, industries and countries. AI can help create these ontologies, and progress is already being made by start-ups and initiatives like the World Economic Forum Global Taxonomy and the European e-Competence Framework.

Verification: The second component is a skills-based credential system that enables workers to earn digital credentials for their skills. This system would need to be decentralized to ensure trust, provenance and transparency, and could be achieved through a blockchain-based platform. Such a platform would allow workers to prove that their skills have been used in a work setting, rather than just through taking a course.

Trading platforms: The third component is a decentralized marketplace that aggregates data on the skills needed by companies and the skills possessed by workers. This marketplace would enable workers to predict changes in the supply and demand for skills, and could be achieved through a platform that uses AI to update data on the skills market in real-time.

By creating this infrastructure, we can enable a skills-based economy that fosters cooperation and innovation, drives progress in various fields, and ultimately benefits both companies and individuals, while enabling a more merit-based system of building wealth.

We live at a time where we truly have the chance to forever change how we build our careers, create wealth and effectively navigate change in this increasingly complex world – and leveraging our skills will be key to this.

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