Katherine Stephen introduces her PhD on metaskills maturity for future workplaces

Katherine Stephen SDS presentation 2020Amongst the doctoral studies undertaken within the Centre for Social Informatics are a number that are co-funded by the ESRC and Skills Development Scotland (SDS). To date, we have:

We have also just admitted a sixth ESRC-SDS funded student. She successfully applied for our recently-advertised studentship on natural languages interfaces to support the career decision-making of young people, and will start the +1 part of her programme in the autumn.

Over the course of their studies these doctoral candidates have several opportunities to present their work to SDS. Last week, on 24th June 2020, Katherine Stephen gave an overview of her research at an online event attended by SDS staff, and by fellow students from across Scotland who are working towards completion of ESRC-SDS collaborative PhDs. The abstract for Katherine’s presentation is given below, and the slides are available on SlideShare.


Metaskills are variously described as “timeless, higher order skills” (SDS, 2018), “faculties linked to communications, critical thinking, interpersonal communications, and leadership” (Finch et al, 2013) or “higher-order skills that enable effective use of pre-existing skills” (Grace et al, 2016). In some literature examples without providing a broader definition.

In the newest predictions for the workplace pre-CoVID-19, metaskills were seen as an important part of a jobseeker’s toolkit (Demos Helsinki, 2017; ILO, 2018) despite this lack of agreed definition. This may be due to (1) the increasing speed and efficiency in machines, intelligent or otherwise, taking on tasks previously assigned to humans, and (2) the rapid senescence of in-use technologies and processes, which continually renders specific technical skills obsolete (Hirschi, 2018).

In a post-pandemic world where workplace guidelines and their implications shift underneath our feet (Alon et al, 2020), these capabilities of adaptation and self-understanding become not just desirable but essential.

Through the lens of information science, this PhD explores how to define, assess and develop these skills in workplace environments, so that workers can remain prepared for new iterations of the labour market and so that workplaces can ensure their employees are capable of pivoting to new tasks and roles. The presentation has a focus on research methods, paying particular attention to how these might be adjusted to work within a physically distant society.


Alon, T. M., Doepke, M., Olmstead-Rumsey, J., & Tertilt, M. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on gender equality (No. w26947). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Demos Helsinki (2017). Work 2040 – Scenarios for the Future of Work – Demos Helsinki. [online] Demos Helsinki. Available at: https://www.demoshelsinki.fi/en/julkaisut/work-2040-scenarios-for-the-future-of-work/

Finch, D., Nadeau, J. and O’Reilly, N. (2013). The future of marketing education: a practitioner’s perspective. Journal of Marketing Education, [online] 35(1), pp.54–67. Available at: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ997475

Grace, S., Orrock, P., Vaughan, B., Blaich, R. and Coutts, R. (2016). Understanding clinical reasoning in osteopathy: a qualitative research approach. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies, 24(1).

Hirschi, A. (2018). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Issues and Implications for Career Research and Practice. The Career Development Quarterly, [online] 66(3), pp.192–204. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cdq.12142

International Labour Office Geneva (2018). Global skills trends, training needs and lifelong learning strategies for the future of work. Report prepared by the ILO and OECD for the G20 Employment Working Group 2nd Meeting of the Employment Working Group. [online] Available at: http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/2018/g20_global_skills_trends_and_lll_oecd-ilo.pdf

Skills Development Scotland (2018). Skills 4.0. [online] Skills Development Scotland. Available at: https://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/what-we-do/skills-planning/skills4-0/

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