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What are the core skills we’ll need for the future?

How will the world of work change in the next 10 years? What are the skills we’ll need to succeed? And where will technologies like AI and robotics lead?

With technological innovation transforming the way we work and interact, more and more people are looking to the future and asking these questions. Understanding, anticipating, and harnessing the power of change has never felt more important.

Who better to shed light on these issues than JP McKenna, Head of Innovation Solutions at Ulster Bank? Last month JP talked about the work his team are involved in, at the heart of the technology innovation community in Dublin. This month we caught up to discuss career journeys and the skills and mindsets we’ll need for the future.

From finance to innovation

Rob: Let’s begin by reflecting a bit on your own career journey. What led you to a career in technology innovation?

JP: I’ve always had an interest in technology, but my background was actually in finance. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant and started with Ulster Bank in 2005. Since then I’ve been a Finance Business Partner for different business areas and a Business Performance Manager. I got involved in some exciting projects – one was helping establish our Innovation team and building the partnership with Dogpatch Labs, where we’re now based. Just from that project I knew that we were building something special here and I wanted to be involved long term.

Rob: That’s interesting. You’ve travelled quite a distance in terms of career area and expertise. What skills helped you most with that transition?

JP: One of the main things is simply being open to change, and not being afraid to try something new. Moving into a new area can be a little daunting, and I’ve definitely had to learn on the job. But it’s good to remember that your core skills and experiences don’t limit you to just doing one thing: with the right support, they’re adaptable to all kinds of roles. That’s where the team culture at Ulster Bank comes in. In every job I’ve had here, there’s been the opportunity to learn and stretch myself, and that’s balanced with a great support network.

Understanding change

Rob: Let’s talk about careers and skillsets for the future. How do you think the world of work is changing?

JP: Disruption and ambiguity are becoming increasing constants in how we work and live, and while this can create a feeling of uncertainty it also creates some really exciting opportunities for us all. With the adoption of digital, advances in AI and things like Open Banking on the horizon, we’re definitely seeing big changes in how we work and serve our customers. As a business we’re having to become more nimble and proactive, and I think the same goes for individuals with career development.

Technology is changing how and where we work these days, with remote working becoming more prevalent. This opens up a much wider range of career options for people, as geographical location doesn’t have to be a barrier to get involved in something new. And there’s plenty of talk at the moment about the gig economy, which may see more people and organisations adopting a fluid, freelance approach.

With AI, there’s a great deal of potential to help serve our customers. But this isn’t simply about automation. We need to think about how and where we use AI to improve and augment our current services. There will always be the need for human engagement, understanding, expertise, creativity. That’s not going anywhere. It’s a question of how the human and automated elements interact, so our customers can get the best possible service, tailored to their preferences.

The same goes when you think about data. AI can help us gather huge quantities of data, but we as humans will need to focus on interpreting it: using our ingenuity to hone in on the issue, spot the opportunity, create the solution. The key will be how we link technology and creativity, and the potential of that intersection is huge.

Core skills for the future

Rob: So what do you think are the core skills we’ll need for the next 10 years and beyond?

JP: That’s the million dollar question. It’s an open discussion, and it varies from person to person. But there are certainly a few things we can point to. If I had to pick a top four I’d say:

Critical thinking – this goes back to what we were saying about being able to interpret data and weigh up alternatives. If you can use metrics and data driven insight to cut to the heart of issues, make decisions and find the best solutions, you’ll be really well placed.

Staying agile – that’s being able to quickly adapt to new situations, new roles, new challenges, and actually enjoying the process. This could apply to the demands of shifting priorities, different kinds of work and projects, but it also means being mentally agile.

Creativity – technology provides us with tremendous potential, but it takes human imagination and ingenuity to do something with it. We’ll need people who love to create and explore, people who can not only see a new possibility and form an idea, but who have the determination to advocate for it, and work with others to follow it through.

A passion for learning – we’ll need to keep learning and developing to keep pace with change. The ability to quickly pick up new skills will be an advantage, but just as important is the desire and initiative to take charge of our own learning and harness the resources, expertise and support networks around us.

Interested in developing your skills for the future here at Ulster Bank? Explore our latest career opportunities today.