In English

28.04.2021

Tomorrow’s work life, new metaskills

Cyberskills, ethical behaviour, self-direction. These and other metaskills will be needed more than ever in work life in the future. Employers have to make sure that their employees keep up with the changes.

Futurist and entrepreneur, Elina Hiltunen was thrilled when an old friend contacted her on chat. The conversation went well, except that the friend kept insisting that Elina should open a certain link. At that point Hiltunen began to have doubts about the identity of the person. At the other end of the line was a hacker who had seized her friend’s account.

– It’s scary to think how many different forms cybercrime can take. The computer isn’t the weakest link, it’s the human being, says Hiltunen.

– But not even in one organizarion where I worked before becoming an entrepreneur, did they give any training in cybersecurity to their employees.

With her story, Hiltunen demonstrates the work life skills that many employees need today – and in future even more. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that cybercrime will result in losses of up to 10.5 billion USD in 2025.

Researchers call these important work life skills also metaskills. Meta comes from Greek and means ‘together’ or  ‘in conjuction’. These skills support the substantive skills needed for doing the work, and they naturally change along with the transition taking place in work and the society.

Tulevaisuuden metataidot

– There is no comprehensive definition or view of metaskills. One could say that they are higher level skills which magnify and activate the use of other skills, says research professor Tuomo Alasoini from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. He works in the Institute’s “Leap into digi” Unit, and is involved in several work life research projects.

Alasoini points out some increasingly important metaskills needed in work life, such as digital skills, interaction, innovation, use of networks, resilience, ability to anticipate future trends, ethical  mindset, self-direction, and managing of entities.

Hiltunen adds more metaskills to the list: media literacy, recognizing employees’ coping capabilities, exerting influence, communication skills, cultural skills, as well as skills needed for sustainable development.

Flexible renovation of production

Unstable times offer an opportunity to observe how enterprises and organizations tackle unexpected challenges – and to discuss the role of metaskills. Can resilience be an advantage in addition to one’s basic skills?

The answer is yes, when you look at Lumi Dental in Varkaus – their turnover increased manifold, and their personnel nearly doubled between 2019 an 2020.

Tuomo Alasoini encourages people to be active themselves in learning new metaskills.

The enterprise faced hardships in the spring of 2020 when the turnover from dental prosthetics fell temporarily to one half of that in normal times, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Someting new had to be done.

– In March we began to import high-quality reasonably priced masks for the needs of the social and health care sector. Our prosthetics are manufactured in China, so we have functioning networks there and we are experienced in acting in their cultural setting, says Jukka Kuosmanen, development manager at Lumi Dental.

In May of last year the enterprise started to plan a mask production line in Finland, initiated by the enterprise’s Board of Directors. They have considerable know-how in industrial production.

Jatkuvasti muuttuva työelämä vaatii uudenlaisia metataitoja

– Our Board of Directors emphasizes that it’s always worth trying to see if you can do something even better, and how else we can utilize the know-how in our organization, Kuosmanen points out.

When Lumi Dental found a suitable production plant, its representatives went to China to see if the factory really exists and corresponds to the description they had given.

Soon the freight train from China transported the mask production line to Finland, and production began in July. All of the employees were new, so they were given thorough training at a fast pace.

Today about one million of the enterprise’s masks are dispatched every month for the use of old people’s care homes, dentists, industries and consumers. And looking into the future, the enterprise plans to respond to the need for masks even after the pandemic is over, and is anticipating the need for new health care products and service concepts.

Ensuring skills for sustainable development

The metaskills described by Alasoini and Hiltunen arise from the megatrends that are transforming the world. These include for instance climate change, diminishing natural resources, social inequality, as well as digitalization, including artificail intelligence and robotics.

Talk about an ecosocial society has increased. It calls for the protection of the environment, the climate, and natural diversity as the basis of all activities.

– In my mind the goals of sustainable development raised by the UN can be understood also as work life skills. Hiltunen believes that more people should understand the circular economy and the consumption of energy.

Digiskills are closely related to other metaskills.

Equality is one of the goals of sustainable development. In work life, it is challenged by modern-day slavery, which can be found even in Finland, as illustrated last autumn by the sensation around the Finnish cleaning enterprises that exploited immigrant workers. According to Hiltunen, there are some 600–700 modern-day slaves in Finland, whereas globally there are over 40 million.

– Some Chinese enterprises have their products manufactured by sub-contractors in North-Korea. Similarly in Europe there are North-Korean slaves working for instance on docks. Recognizing such phenomena becomes increasingly important, says Hiltunen.

Many digital gaps

Also various digiskills are more and more in demand. According to Elina Hiltunen, the web and web-based solutions facilitate business operations. However, it is easier to learn to use digiservices than to give a convincing and successful sales pitch on the web.

Alasoini agrees. In his opinion, digiskills are closely related to other metaskills, and he defines four skill groups. The first one consists of mastering different technical systems and digital tools. The second includes navigation skills and the ability to assess reliably the information available on the web. The third skill group consists of social skills, the ability to interact with others and behave in an ethical manner. The fourth is the skill to create and produce information and services that are deemed by others to be valuable and interesting, and this isn’t possible without innovativeness. This also impacts the competitiveness of the enterprise.

Metataidot

– Especially the social and creative dimensions are important, because artificial intelligence and other technological components are a poor substitue for them, says Alasoini.

– It’s unfortunate that in Finland the dialogue around digiskills is sometimes restricted to whether a person can turn on the computer. More than that is needed in work life.

Alasoini has led a study on digital gaps and users of digitools in Finnish work life. The study was sponsored by the Finnish Work Environment Fund and carried out at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. One half of Finnish employees, the “skilled utilizers”, are adept users of digital devices. The majority of these are in the age range of 24–44 years.

The other half can be divided into three groups. The “intensive users” can master the use of digital devices, but they perceive their work as loading, and the pressure to learn new things as great. The “anxious users” have weak digiskills and difficulties in learning digitools. The proportion of over 45-year-olds is great in this group. The “routine users” use digitools in their work to a lesser extent or not at all, and are at risk of being bypassed in the digitalization development in work life.

– Managers can remedy the situation in four different ways: 1) developing the personnel’s know-how; 2) possibility to acquire new digital devices; 3) providing support for using digitools, taking into account the different skill levels of employees; and 4) discussing together how the work could be made more versatile by using digitools, lists Alasoini.

Creativity flourishes in the culture

The communications team of the Finnish Tax Administration has been in the news especially because of their innovations in the social media. Their taxation-related information is often linked to some current phenomenon on the web.

Kati Kalliomäki, the communications manager of the Finnish Tax Administration states that all messages from the Tax Administarion must support its strategy: implementing the right level of taxation at the right time for the purpose of financing the society.

– At the time when people were returning their tax forms, we entertained people by live-streaming a cute puppy. Right now we are putting social media postings in the spirit of the ‘Grown-ups’ TV series, in agreement with YLE (TV) and the producer, Kalliomäki says. The puppy stream not only reminded citizens of their important duty, but also brought 6000 new followers to the Tax Administration’s Instagram account.

Tulevaisuuden metataidot

Two to three employees worki full-time every day on social media projects at the Tax Administration. A communications unit of 30 people from all around the country has been working together remotely for some time already. The work itself is carried out in small teams.

– The management trusts the teams to find the best solutions themselves and to guide their own work, says Kalliomäki.

A flat organization allows more freedom to its employees to try out new ways that lead to innovations.

She adds that innovativeness is fired up in joint communications sessions, where the participants inspire each other. It is surprising, however, that a communications specialist’s own training time was only 0.7 days a year, which is the lowest in the entire Tax Administration.

– This work is learned by doing, by getting high-quality training, as well as by following trends and trying out new ideas. In addition, we have two-hour seminars, and then thre’s blogging and other spontaneous, independent development activities, says Kalliomäki.

Creative problem-solving, learning together, self-management and mastering larger entities aren’t the privileges of only the communications team, they are skills practised by the entire personnel of the Tax Administration. A flat organization allows more freedom to its employees to try out new ways that lead to innovations. One such innovation is a previously established digital service, OmaVero (Own Tax) which helps people to handle their own tax issues.

A new challenge in the Tax Administration is to utilize reliable information more effectively for managing operations. Situation rooms are being planned for the use of teams.

– The teams can see which of their activities have been successful, and they can make decisions accordingly and understand the big picture better. This isn’t always easy because some aspects of communication are difficult to measure, for example the effects of a negative social media sensation, says Kalliomäki.

How to master metaskills?

Interesting viewpoints are associated with self-management, such as coping at work and learning metaskills. One risk is that an employee can take on too much work and become chronically stressed, which will lead to depression.

– In my opinion, the work life skills of supervisors should include knowledge of mental health issues, so that they are able to observe weak signals if an employee can’t cope at work – in other words, notice when a person has trouble doing their job, says Hiltunen.

Alasoini reminds that employees may develop many kinds of skill gaps, if their know-how is not followed at work. He encourages people to be active themselves in learning new metaskills.

– There is a clear trend that many employers expect their employees to want to learn new skills even during their free time. For example, they take for granted that people, more than before, learn to use new digital devices alongside working or during their leisure time. This may be possible for some, while others may find it excessively stressing.

He adds that in addition to training at workplaces, employees learn increasingly from their peers at work. This is evident at the Tax Administration, where employees share their expertise and experiences in 15-minute info-meets or half-hour ’development mornings’. And they also hold Pecha Kucha sessions where the employees pitch their own ideas by showing 20 pictures to demonstrate the ideas, spending 20 seconds for explaining each picture. Kalliomäki has experience of this herself.

– A while ago I attended such a session motivating our specialists to communicate more efficiently.

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