How to future-proof your career for the digital industrial revolution

Prepare yourself by becoming a lifelong learner, say workplace experts

According to Orla Graham, Deloitte's chief human resources officer, the workplace of the future will change. The focus will be on greater collaboration, team-working and innovation. It will require a workforce capable of working in diverse teams to do work which is augmented by new technologies that will constantly drive productivity improvement.

These changes will have implications for employers. They will require business to be more innovative in getting the best from employees. It will also put pressure on individuals to get used to working in different contexts and modes than in the past.

This will require employees to develop new professional skillsets that include critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, e-leadership and other life, and professional skills to meet the demands of the new workplace.

Constant change

Over the next five years, the adoption of digital technologies will have a major impact on almost all sectors of the Irish workplace, as up to one in three jobs will be disrupted.


The sectors most at risk include agriculture, retail, transport, hospitality and manufacturing, as well as people in low-skilled occupations, according to the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs which, in December, published its predictions for the impact of digitisation on Ireland's workforce.

The good news, however, is that “the majority of sectors in the Irish economy are expected to be employing more people in 2023 than they did in 2018, with overall employment at levels never witnessed before in Ireland”.

But there will be job losses and those affected will have to upskill and retrain for new roles, some of which have not yet been created.

Educators have been recommending it for years, and the expert group confirms that the concept of lifelong learning, where each individual has an education and training programme they follow throughout their career, will become more of an imperative.

Universities and other institutes of higher education have been responding to this lifelong training agenda. NUI Galway has a long history of offering opportunities to individuals to upskill with its Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

However, as a state, we have been reluctant to engage with lifelong learning. An earlier report by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs showed that Ireland’s participation rate in lifelong learning was not quite seven per cent. That was below the EU 28 average of nearly 11 per cent and well behind the top performers, Denmark (31 per cent), Sweden (29 per cent) and Finland (25 per cent). So there is still considerable work to be done in this area.


According to Tony Donohoe, the head of education and social policy at Ibec, and chairman of the expert group, there needs to be close collaboration between business, Government and the higher education sector to ensure the workforce is adaptable, agile and open to learning. The skills learned during formal education will no longer be enough for future careers. Workers will require ongoing education and training.

And, contrary to popular belief, this is not just in the area of technical skills and IT literacy, but also in areas such as leadership, interpersonal skills and business skills.

In addition to that, the future workplace described by Ms Graham will require emotional intelligence, flexibility, adaptive thinking cross-cultural learning and communication skills. With this on the horizon, it's not a case of if you will invest in your career through continuous professional development (CPD), but how soon can you start.

Five things to look for

CPD is the systematic increase of knowledge, skills and competencies, and the development of the personal and professional qualities, needed to do your job. Identifying the skills you wish to develop is the first step. At that point, there are a number of key things to keep in mind before deciding on the process.

1 Level
If you opt for a formal course, what level of qualifications do you need? This is regulated by the National Framework of Qualifications. For example, level nine is master's level;

2 Credits
Is the course you're considering credit-bearing or not? What constitutes "credits" is outlined in the European Credit Transfer System and essentially regulates the workload a learner is required to complete in order to get the award;

3 Industry recognition/accreditation
Many professionals are required to clock up a certain amount of CPD each year to maintain their registration. Be sure the course you are taking is recognised and meets the criteria;

4 Flexibility
Does the course fit in around your busy schedule? In my experience, the best mode of learning for CPD is blended-learning, which includes online interaction in addition to face-to-face tuition at out-of-office times, such as at weekends or evenings;

5 Relevance
Is the content driven by your work context and are the competencies you are going to learn applicable in your job? Chose a course with a curriculum driven by research and delivered by experts in the field.

Teaching and learning methods have caught up with the needs of busy professionals, CPD now is a rewarding experience allowing one to develop on a personal level as well as one’s professional acumen. And in a fast-changing work environment, the time to tune in is now.

Dr Brían Ó Donnchadha is the continuing professional development officer in NUI Galway