Today’s workforce faces a greater range of threats to their livelihoods than ever before. Many jobs will come under threat in the next decade from trends such as globalization, automation and robotics. However, the growing digital workforce doesn’t necessarily mean the end for today’s workers. With the abundance of education and training classes now available online, employees can stay ahead of the game and safeguard their futures by developing new skills and talents, making them indispensable to their employers.

Education has long been seen as something which you do at the start of your career, jamming as much training as possible into the early part of your life, before moving into the world of work. However, with today’s digital workforce and the trend of continuing education gaining pace, employees — and employers — are beginning to see the benefits of upgrading skills while on the job.

Education for the Digital World

According to Venture Beat, online education company Coursera recently announced that it would be providing a new set of online courses designed specifically to meet the needs of those working in the government and nonprofit sectors with the aim of closing “current and emerging skills gaps in the global workforce.”

Many of the skills required for employment today are foreign to workers in their 50s and 60s, who were educated in a pre-digital world. This makes Coursera and other MOOCs (massive open online courses) a lifeline in an era when automation and outsourcing is putting millions of jobs at risk.

The Economist reported that, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of all working Americans think developing new skills is essential to their future career success. The problem is that as workers depend more on continuous training to do their jobs, employers seem to be less willing to invest in such training.

According to the 2015 Economic Report of the President, the percentage of workers in the U.S. receiving employer-sponsored or on-the-job training had fallen steadily between 1996 and 2008. And the Economist reported that in the U.K., the amount of on-the-job training employees received was almost cut in half between 1997 and 2009.

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Employee Education Is Good for Business

According to the Economist’s Andrew Palmer, there are “faint outlines” emerging that indicate employers are finally coming around to the idea that continuous education for its digital workforce can benefit not only their employees, but also themselves.

MOOCs are increasingly adapting their online courses to address the specific needs of employees in certain industries. LinkedIn is also offering courses through its LinkedIn Learning program, while education startup Degreed works as a central repository of credentials for employees.

For employers too, the benefits can be huge. Not only will a company gain a more educated workforce by investing in ongoing training, it will also help make the company more secure. As data — and in particular sensitive customer data — becomes an increasingly valuable asset, protecting it is hugely important. By training and educating your workforce on the best practices of handling that data, and how to spot a possible cyberattack, companies can reap huge benefits.

Some employers have already seen the light. According to Forbes, United Technologies, a manufacturer of a range of hi-tech products, including aircraft engines, pays up to $12,000 a year toward employee tuition. Additionally, companies like Deloitte and Raytheon offer a range of similar benefits for their employees, and the list is growing.

Support From the Government

For such a trend to really have an impact for the entire digital workforce, it may require the intervention of government. In Singapore, that is already happening. The SkillsFuture Initiative is a $600 million annual fund that seeks to identify the skills that will be in demand from a cross section of industries. The result is that Singaporeans get a credit of $345 toward their continuing education through one of 500 approved providers, with those over the age of 40 getting additional subsidies of up to 90 percent.

Increasingly, employers and employees alike are discovering that the traditional approach of cramming all your training and education into the early part of your life isn’t a sustainable model. As mundane tasks typically carried out by humans begin to be performed by robots, retraining and learning new skills are becoming more important than ever for the workforce, employers and the country as a whole.

Other trends that are contributing to the rise of the digital workforce include augmented reality and the Internet of Things.

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David Gilbert

David Gilbert specializes in covering the global smartphone industry and the dangerous world of cybercrime. David previously served as European technology editor at the International Business Times, and as Technology Editor for the UK edition of IBTimes for over three-and-a-half years, where he earned the prestigious Digital Writer of the Year award at the Online Media Awards in 2013.

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