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  • Writer's pictureDavid Jaffa

Don't Panic! The bright future of workplace skills

[Based on a talk by David Jaffa at the APPG on Digital Skills (@DigiSkillsAPPG) January 28, 2020. The theme of the meeting was 'The Education System'.]

Some people are putting forward a vision of the future where everyone is unemployed living in trailer parks playing video games all day. But actually, we’re not seeing that now. We have historically high employment rates, continuing economic growth, improvements in life expectancy and living standards, notwithstanding the ongoing impact of technology on the workplace and jobs.

When I first met Julie Elliott MP, she asked me, “What are we going to do about the economy in constituencies like Sunderland Central?”

Tyler is 16 and leaving school in Sunderland. His take-away from 11 years of state-funded education is that he’s basically thick and he doesn’t think he has great prospects because of his working class background. What should we say to Tyler? I would say: "Future economy is very bright. The skills required are completely clear and extremely predictable and stable over time. You probably have some of them naturally Tyler." 

“What are we going to do about the economy in constituencies like Sunderland Central?” Julie Elliott MP 2019


We know that Long Term Economic Growth with be 2-3% pa in the first world leading to a MUCH Wealthier Society. Twice as wealthy within a generation; three or four times as wealthy in two generations. 

When agriculture gave way to industry people didn’t stop producing and eating food. Those products and services still existed. But lots of new things came along in addition. Railways, textiles, manufactured goods and other new industries emerged that weren't there before.

Similarly, the top 4 US Companies on the S&P500 - Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook - weren’t around a generation ago.

Future growth will come from NEW GROWTH INDUSTRIES. But... 


Quantum computing breakthrough

The future belongs to people who find inventive ways to create new products, services, technology platforms and brands. We can't tell in advance which of these new models are going to succeed. But we DO know that every new model not only has to be created … it has to be financed, sold, marketed, regulated and adopted within society. 

So what are the workplace skills required to: 

  • Prepare young people - of all backgrounds - for the growth industries of the future?  

  • Bring all parts of the UK with us? 

  • Enable the UK to prosper in a world of technology-driven growth? 


It turns out there is an Economic Ranking of Skills that shows which skills are getting LESS valuable which are getting much MORE valuable.

It’s an ECONOMIC ranking, so we are not looking here at the broader societal benefits of particular jobs, important though that is. The Economic Ranking of Skills concerns the amount of earnings and certainty of earnings someone can expect during their career. It works like this:

  • The Economic Value in each level is several times higher than the level immediately below

  • People DON’T have to progress through the stages. ANYONE can go straight for number 1.  

The Economic Ranking of Skills is: 

  1. Build Assets

  2. Character

  3. Leadership

  4. Portable Job Functions

  5. Product / Service Delivery

  6. Knowledge 

Working up from the bottom…


The economic value of knowledge is disappearing rapidly because people can just Google it.


The economic value of product or service delivery is on shaky ground - in any industry. If it can be defined, it could, in principle, be outsourced, offshored or automated. The economic value of these kinds of skills are going DOWN. 


Portable Job Functions are jobs that exist in every industry. Such as: 

  • Sales

  • Marketing

  • Customer Support / Training

  • Operations

  • Technology Integration

  • Finance

  • Project Management

  • Management

  • Strategy

People with portable job skills who find themselves in a company or industry that is declining, can move to one that is growing.  Digital Skills come into ALL of these areas. And MOST people are a natural fit somewhere 


The ability to put together a team with complementary skills quickly, and get the best out of them, has a special place.


Character traits are attributes that - combined with other skills - put people in the minority. People who:

  • Take responsibility

  • Contribute to others

  • Are resilient, and  

  • Deliver results


Examples of assets, are:

  • Businesses

  • Technology platforms

  • Networks

  • Intellectual Property

  • Brands

People who can build the value of assets can ask for, and get, a share of the substantial wealth they are creating for others. For example through:

  • Share Options

  • Starting a Business  

  • Creating intellectual property

And someone in Sunderland can do this just as well as someone in Hampstead.  

Own or be Owned

But there’s another reason building assets is important. When British owned brands are successful globally, whether it’s Harry Potter or Coldplay, the profits go back to the UK.  When UK citizens invest in shares or property overseas, we own a little bit of the rest of the world. And when people from overseas buy UK assets, they own a little bit of us. As a country, our future is OWN or be OWNED. So we need to teach people this stuff.


My answer to Julie Elliott’s question about what we do for the economy in areas like Sunderland Central is that it’s absolutely clear what skills young people need to be prepared for the future workplace. And it's absolutely clear that young people like Tyler actually have aptitude for those skills. But we need to help them connect the dots and find out where they fit.  We need to decide whether we're satisfied with the status quo where 99 percent of the curriculum is academics. Imagine the difference just shifting to 95% academics and 5% workplace-related skills could make?  And are WE going to be the ones to push for something better!? 


Economic Ranking of Skills flyer - Jaffa Foundation 2020-01-28

Handout used at the APPG on Digital Skills January 28, 2020

Economic Ranking of Skills flyer - Jaffa Adobe Acrobat Document 243.5 KB

Economic Ranking of Skills flyer - Jaffa
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