Decoding Skills of The Future: A Deep Dive with Labor Economist Bledi Taska
Bledi Taska, Ph.D., Head of Analytics at Skyhive, formerly Executive Vice President and Chief Economist at Light Cast, has made a career out of leveraging labor market analytics to empower growth and align talent with business strategies. With a focus on technology and a passion for rhetorical questioning, statistical evidence, and direct address, Taska brings a professional and persuasive tone to his work.
Bledi Taska, Executive Vice President and Chief Economist at Light Cast
I recently sat down to chat with Bledi Taska about future of work trends as part of my research to produce Season 1 of The Lever with Drew Fortin. This show highlights how the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and Web3 will shift the paradigm of humans at work for the better. I wrote this article based on my notes and transcripts from the interview. You can also watch a video of my interview with Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive and former Chief Economist at Lightcast, below.
The Puzzling Labor Trend: Demand for Employees Amidst Layoff Discussions
Taska, finds one of the most fascinating labor trends to be the persistent labor shortages and high demand for employees, despite ongoing discussions about layoffs. This trend has defied expectations of a cyclical nature, raising puzzling questions about the reality of the job market. He observes that while layoff news dominates social media platforms, the data tells a different story.
When we had our discussion, the market had just grown by half a million jobs, contradicting the prevailing narrative of widespread layoffs. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in the tech industry, where reports of layoffs are common, creating a discrepancy between perception and reality.
"There aren't enough workers available, and there has been talk of a recession for months. However, we haven't seen any concrete evidence of this in the data." – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
The tech industry's unique circumstances contribute to this puzzling effect. Some companies experienced significant growth during the Covid period or benefited from low competition. Consequently, they may now be scaling back, leading to layoffs. However, these instances are specific rather than indicative of the overall job market. Other sectors of the economy continue to perform well, with hiring demand remaining high.
Taska highlighted that the labor trend of high demand amidst layoff discussions raises questions about the actual state of the job market. It underscores the importance of analyzing data and considering industry-specific factors when assessing labor trends. Despite the prevailing uncertainty and volatility, this phenomenon serves as a reminder that narratives and perceptions don't always align with empirical evidence.
The Evolving Employee-Employer Relationship: A Reset of Roles
Taska challenged the notion that the employee-employer relationship is broken. While acknowledging that the landscape has shifted from the traditional concept of lifetime job commitment, he spoke of how the connection is being reset rather than wholly fractured. In his view, the current dynamics reflect a transparency revolution, with employees being more informed and empowered.
He pointed out the availability of information has played a significant role in reshaping the employee-employer relationship. Employees are now more knowledgeable about alternative job opportunities, wages, and workplace conditions. This increased awareness has led to a desire for better matches and a willingness to seek alternatives.
"So, I think we have this transparency revolution. Employees know more about other jobs, they know more about wages, they know more about how other employees, so essentially, they are kind of revolting but they're trying to find a better match." – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
Moreover, Taska highlighted the impact of labor shortages and the changing priorities brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. These factors have prompted employees to assert their power and influence, contributing to a shift in the balance of power between employers and employees. The ability to work remotely has further expanded the options available to employees, allowing them to consider opportunities beyond their immediate vicinity.
Rather than viewing the relationship as broken, Taska sees it as a resetting of roles. With employees gaining more agency and employers adjusting to these changing dynamics, the relationship is entering a new phase. The focus is shifting towards creating mutually beneficial arrangements based on transparency, flexibility, and informed decision-making.
The Impact of AI on Jobs: Reskilling and Displacement
In the evolving landscape of increased automation and artificial intelligence (AI), Taska emphasized focusing on reskilling rather than fearing job displacement. While acknowledging the potential for disruption in specific occupations, he argues that AI creates its own demand, leading to the creation of new jobs.
He references the "ATM effect" to illustrate his point. Just as the introduction of ATMs did not eliminate the need for tellers but instead resulted in the expansion of banking services and the creation of more branches, AI is likely to lead to an augmentation effect. And while specific tasks within creative fields or even in writing and marketing may be automated, there will still be a need for human expertise and oversight.
"In the shorterm there might be some disruption, but I think in the long run it's kind of a more accepted fact that AI creates its own demand." – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
He also highlights the importance of skill complementarity in reskilling efforts. Instead of focusing solely on job displacement, he suggests shifting the dialogue to how individuals can be equipped with the right skills to transition from one job to another. Reskilling initiatives can ensure that workers are prepared for the changing landscape and can adapt to new roles created by AI.
It is worth noting that despite earlier predictions of significant job displacement, recent research contradicts these claims. The actual impact of AI on job displacement in the past five to seven years has been relatively minimal, with challenges arising more in finding skilled workers for certain blue-collar positions.
While the long-term effects of AI on jobs remain uncertain, his perspective offers a hopeful outlook, emphasizing reskilling, skill complementarity, and the potential for AI to create new job opportunities.
Navigating the Long Journey of AI and Future Skills
Taska discussed the long-term nature of AI implementation and the need for cultural and infrastructural changes. He emphasizes that AI's progress should be viewed in decades rather than short-term periods, considering factors beyond technological advancements.
Taska pointed out that social acceptance plays a crucial role in the adoption of AI. People havehigher expectations for machines, which affects their acceptance of errors made by AI systems. Additionally, he highlighted the need for cultural change and infrastructure improvements to fully leverage AI's potential. Outdated software systems and traditional practices hinder the integration of AI solutions in various sectors.
"It's more about the bundle of skills that you need and essentially what we've seen in the past couple of years is what we call a hybridization effect - where we see skills mixing together that did not before. – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
Regarding skills and competencies, he argues against focusing solely on specific skills or traits. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of a skill bundle and the hybridization effect seen in recent years. Digital or technical jobs now require a combination of technical expertise, human skills, and business acumen. Conversely, occupations traditionally non-digitalized are experiencing an increasing demand for digital skills. Effective communication, including visual communication, is another crucial skill in today's evolving job market.
Taska suggests a triangulation of technical, human, and business problem-solving skills as the key to success in the future labor market. The ability to understand the bigger picture, empathize with clients' needs, and effectively communicate ideas will be highly valued.
The Nuanced Relationship Between Technical and Communication Skills in the Workplace
Taska emphasized the importance of both technical and communication skills in the workplace. He acknowledges that the level of each skill depends on the role and domain, with managerial roles requiring a balance between technical expertise and interpersonal abilities. However, he also highlights the rapid disruption of technical skills due to technological advancements.
He says that research demonstrates that the skill premium, which initially favors STEM workers, diminishes over time. This is because digital and technical skills become obsolete quickly, necessitating ongoing upskilling efforts. On the other hand, communication and teamwork skills tend to remain relatively stable over time, with remote work presenting some changes.
"It's hard to measure communication and teamwork skills without having worked with them. It's kind of easy for people to trick you on those areas in an interview." – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
Taska acknowledges the challenge of quantifying and measuring communication skills. Many employers rely on proxies, such as bachelor's degrees, to assess an individual's communication abilities. However, he believes there is room for improvement in this area. He suggests exploring new approaches, such as simulated situations using augmented or virtual reality, to test communication skills at scale. Additionally, he mentions the potential benefits of apprenticeship-style training and closer relationships between companies and employees to assess soft skills better.
While recognizing the difficulty of accurately evaluating communication skills during the hiring process, Taska believes that focusing on a combination of technical and human skills, along with ongoing upskilling, can help navigate the challenges posed by rapidly evolving job requirements.
Assessing Value and Navigating Career Paths
Delving into the question of determining the value of individuals in the workplace, Taska offered insights on assessing one's own worth and career paths. He emphasizes the concept of being a force multiplier, where individuals have the ability to enhance the performance of those around them, making them valuable assets to companies.
He drew parallels to coaching in sports, highlighting that effective coaches may not have been star players themselves but possess the ability to bring out the best in their team members. This ability to amplify the productivity and capabilities of others is highly valued by employers, leading to long-term commitments from both parties.
"I think there's a real opportunity here. I tell people that my dream is that at least in my lifetime there will be this thing that I call GPS for careers." – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
When assessing individual value, he acknowledges the lack of information and misinformation in the market. Many employees and even students are unaware of potential job opportunities or career pathways available to them. He envisions a future where individuals have access to a "GPS for careers," allowing them to explore various paths, understand earning potential, and receive guidance based on their preferences.
Taska's perspective highlights the need for increased information and guidance to help individuals make informed career decisions. By recognizing their unique qualities and understanding the market dynamics, individuals can better assess their value and navigate their professional journeys.
Navigating Career Development and Upskilling: Opportunities and Challenges
When discussing career development, Taska explores the dynamics between employers and employees and the potential for a shift towards more direct-to-employee career services. He acknowledges that while work remains organized around employers, there are opportunities for improvement in two key areas.
Firstly, He highlights the need for better information infrastructure within companies. Many organizations lack a comprehensive understanding of their employee pool and the potential career pathways available. Building an internal job mapping system, similar to an internal LinkedIn, could empower employees by showcasing internal job opportunities and skills required for advancement. However, he notes that implementing such infrastructure is currently an ongoing challenge.
Secondly, He recognizes the growing opportunities for individuals to gain new skills independently. Online platformsoffer avenues for upskilling, particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when individuals had more time for learning. However, he emphasizes that employers will still play a significant role in training, as they often provide the necessary resources. The key challenge lies in demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) to individuals, showing them the potential financial benefits or reduced workload resulting from upskilling efforts.
"But I think the biggest problem of upskilling is that you need to show the individual the ROI." – Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
Taska also discusses the potential for web three technologies to contribute to career development. However, he cautions that objectivity in evaluating employees' skills and performance remains a challenge, as subjective biases from managers can impact outcomes.
Overall, he presents a nuanced perspective on career development, highlighting the need for improved information infrastructure within companies and effective ROI messaging to motivate individuals to upskill.
Exploring the Rise of Freelance and Fractional Work
Offering his insights into the growing trend of freelance and fractional work, while acknowledging the hype surrounding this type of employment, Taska provides a nuanced perspective on its impact.
He cautions against inflated numbers that often count individuals participating in low-value gigs, leading to misconceptions about the scale and contribution of gig work to the overall economy. He highlights the importance of considering not only the number of people involved but also the percentage of GDP generated.
Taska acknowledged the shift towards companies hiring remote workers from different locations, including across borders. The potential for cost savings and access to diverse talent pools drives this trend. Platforms like Deal have already emerged, facilitating global talent acquisition for businesses.
"Even today, even after COVID and even after all of this revolution of working from everywhere, I still think that it is a very small percentage."– Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
While Taska does not foresee a complete transformation from traditional company models to a workforce composed entirely of freelancers, he emphasizes the value of the established organizational structure, encompassing various departments and functions. He believes that the future lies in companies embracing remote work and cross-border hiring, unlocking opportunities for collaboration with talent worldwide.
Taska's insights shed light on the ongoing evolution of work dynamics, where companies are exploring new ways to leverage freelance and fractional work while maintaining the benefits of a structured organization.
The Impact of Remote Work on Job Commoditization and the Role of Policy
Taska believes that remote work has the potential to accelerate the commoditization of certain roles. By hiring individuals from different regions, companies may find lower-cost alternatives, which can impact wages in the short term. However, he argues that long-term market equilibrium will prevail, as competition among companies for top talent will prevent wages from consistently decreasing. He notes that cultural factors and the need for cohesive teams can be barriers to full commoditization.
"I don't believe there should be a 'should' when it comes to what companies do; their primary goal is often to maximize profits and minimize costs."– Bledi Taska, Head of Analytics at Skyhive, former Chief Economist at Lightcast
Regarding the conundrum of population growth and a decreasing workforce, Taska highlights the global nature of this challenge. With population growth plateauing or declining in many regions, including the US and Europe, the labor force is facing limitations. He points out that Africa is one of the few regions where population growth is still expected. He suggests that technology, such as robotics and automation, can provide augmentation and scalability for the limited workforce, but policy frameworks are necessary to ensure responsible implementation.
Taska emphasizes the role of policy in guiding companies toward ethical and socially beneficial choices. He asserts that companies will prioritize profit maximization and cost minimization unless regulations and incentives are in place. Taska calls for a comprehensive approach that considers short-term and long-term effects, as well as societal well-being.
The Future of At-Will Employment: Balancing Power Dynamics and Regulation
When exploring the evolving landscape of at-will employment and its implications for both employers and employees, Taska went into the power dynamics at play and the need for regulation to ensure a fair and balanced work environment.
He acknowledged that in the United States, employers possess significant power under the at-will employment system. However, he highlights the contrasting regulations in other countries, such as the UK, where specific rules protect employees' rights during significant life events like maternity leave. He suggested that striking a balance between employer power and employee protection is crucial for fostering a productive dynamic.
As our conversation ended, we spoke about the gig economy and the rise of contractual employment. Taska notes that while employers have historically held the upper hand, the trend is shifting towards granting more rights to employees. The emergence of debates around worker classification, such as the case with Uber, signifies the growing need for reevaluating existing regulations.
Taska predicts that the future of at-will employment will witness a gradual increase in employee rights. This evolution aims to provide greater security and benefits to workers, ultimately enhancing the overall sector. However, and true to his economist roots, Taska also acknowledges the challenges of finding the right balance and implementing effective regulations to ensure fairness for both employers and employees.
Want to hear more from Bledi Taska?
- Catch Bledi Taska in episodes 4 and 6 of Season 1 of The Lever with Drew Fortin
- Watch my full-length interview with Bledi Taska, Executive Vice President and Chief Economist at Light Cast, on YouTube
- Follow Bledi Taska on LinkedIn
Drew is a people-first, values-driven leader with nearly 20 years of growth strategy and team-building experience across retail, marketing technology, local media, and HR tech. He spent 7 years at The Predictive Index, where he was Chief Growth Officer responsible for the company's strategy to build the world's first...
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