The Half-life of Skills

In nuclear physics, ‘Half-life’ is the interval of time required for one-half of the quantity of the radioactive substance to decay, and in the process emitting energy. But how is this concept relevant to workforce skills? Well, in the context of skills, it means that the value of our skills will be halved after a specific duration of time.

A World Economic Forum research in 2017 said that the half-life of a skill is about 5 years. As we approach the end of 2021, this number is estimated to be closer to 4 years. So, one can assume that every 4 years our skills will become half as valuable. While for technology skills, this number is lower, but for the sake of simplicity let’s stick with 4 years.

Let’s try to understand the impact of this Half-life phenomenon on an industry that is at the heart of all the disruption we are witnessing – Technology.

By current estimates, there are around 25 million software developers in the world, and this number is expected to double by 2030. This would mean, that there would be nearly 2.5 million new software developer jobs every year for the next 10 years. One would think that academic institutions should be able to fulfill that demand quite easily. However, the truth is that academic institutions churn out only about a million computer science graduates every year, leaving us with a deficit of 1.5 million jobs every year! This number is crucial, and I will explain why.

Of the existing 25 million software developers, 50% will witness the Half-life phenomenon to their skills. This means, without additional upskilling or reskilling, only about 12.5 million of them will be suitable for the jobs we need them to do by 2025. Add this to the 6 million deficit that we would have created in 4 years, based on the yearly 1.5 million deficit we discussed earlier. We are looking at a shortfall of almost about 18.5 million jobs!

While I may have simplified some of the argument here, it’s not hard to understand that for humans to continue to evolve at the current pace, we need to plug this gap. And to do this, a systemic change across Government, Organizations, and Individuals is needed, immediately.

Governments would need to create more schemes, policies, and allocate a budget for intensive re-skilling. They will also need to look at ways in which they will support institutes of higher learning to expand their capacities in producing more employable graduates.

Organizations must believe in Build, instead of Buy, and must embark today on this journey of developing their talent. Most organizations will also have to realize that employees want deeper and more intensive re-skilling experiences and want organizations to provide relevant time for this learning.

And finally, Individuals will need to adopt a ‘continuous learning’ mindset. They must challenge their organizations to re-think why training initiatives are being offered to them for development and learning, and how these are being deployed.

At Emeritus, we know that in the coming year’s organizations will face the biggest shortfall of talent in technology-driven skills. The Emeritus 2021 Global Career Impact Survey has found that the upskilling needs of teams and organizations revolve around new-age skills like Data Science and Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Business Analytics.

To address this need, we have developed several new programs with our world-renowned university partners like MIT Executive Education, Columbia Business School, Wharton Executive Education, Kellogg School of Management Executive Education, and more. Some of these programs include AI & Automation for Enterprise, Data Strategy: Leveraging Data as a Competitive Advantage, People Analytics: Transforming HR Strategy with Data Science, and Robotics Essentials. These programs are designed with the best global educators and thought leaders to suit the learning needs of professionals across functions, and levels.

Employees are ready to acquire skills in areas related to technology – it’s up to the organizations now to do their bit to avoid the Half-life phenomenon in their teams, and to prepare themselves for Industry 5.0.

To learn more about how Emeritus can help your organisation in upskilling and reskilling, contact us at


By Manas Mainrai, Head of Enterprise Business, APAC


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