Manuel Vega 02 August 2021 / 7 minutes read

What future work skills will be needed?

  • Skills

    The pandemic has laid bare the disconnect between gaps in professional training and an increasing need for educated employees. Economies are re-opening with AI and other technological shifts leaving more traditional strategies and tactics in the dust.

    As machines become more capable and ubiquitous, the labor markets of the future will privilege the uniquely human competences of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaborative working alongside cognitive and professional skills.

    With the world adapting to this new reality, the next logical step is to ask: what skills will workers need moving forward to be successful? This is a particularly urgent question in countries with large and growing youth populations.


    Must You Have A Job?

    Traditional employment will be just one option alongside self-employment. To prepare people for the volatile labor markets of tomorrow, they must develop many of the skills of the entrepreneur: spotting opportunity, taking initiative, and mobilizing both people and resources to achieve a result.

    Which is why all indications of future success will depend on an increasing ability to demonstrate the following skill sets:

    1. Being a creative thinker. The ability to ‘think outside the box’ is an important skill for employees at every level to have as we prepare them for a world that is in a constant state of change. Creative thinking is a skill that comes naturally to a lot of children, helping in the engagement of learning throughout life while tying in to meaningful tasks that challenge them in an imaginative way. As they age, helping these people remain creative (and in some ways child-like) is incumbent upon employers, many of whom have historically discouraged independent thought in an effort to teach team members to do things “our way”. This homogenization of thought has led to significant losses of productivity and, in many instances, an inability to spot opportunities. It can safely be expected to be a much less successful formula in the future.

    2. Being a problem solver. Both on a macro and a micro level, there’s a critical need for being able to solve problems independently AND with others. As challenges mount, it will be increasingly important to think “outside the box,” or to consider possibilities where the box shouldn’t even exist. Given today’s medical, environmental, economic, and political environments, it seems a safe conclusion that currently unimaginable problems will, in short order, become both more complex and abundant.

    To address this expected reality, a growing number of organizations are establishing crisis management training programs for staff. This provides solid background for anticipating solutions for real-world problems sure to address their particular discipline. The widespread recognition of these realities ensures every industry has a deep bench of problem-solvers who are prepared prior to the next pandemic or other systemic meltdown.

    3. Being able to collaborate. Two competing (and contradictory) trends over the past few years have gotten more than a few organizations into trouble. Those that have followed the lone wolf philosophy, in which only one person is seen as having the ability to solve problems, find themselves challenged when this person is removed from the equation for any reason. However, firms encouraging an ability to work with others and be sociable find themselves in MUCH stronger positions. This was proven during lockdowns over the past 18 months by companies that had more staffers who were cross-trained and communicative, keeping them nimble and able to transition quickly to the marketplace’s changing dynamics.

    To nobody’s surprise, younger workers are typically more comfortable with social and digital media environments, as well as those of other instant networks, which makes them perfectly suited for collaborative communications. As an essential skill for collaboration, this immersive training helps staffers learn while supporting their emotional well-being…especially important in a time of constant change.

    4. Being able to communicate effectively. Effective communications means being able to collaborate appropriately based on a given situation, objective, team members, personalities, and outside factors. Good communication skills include both verbal and non-verbal interactions, but the pandemic has made these skill sets problematic for many who are fluent in communicating with technology, but challenged when communicating on a personal level. Consider initiating a company-wide Dale Carnegie training program…particularly for those under age 50.

    5. Being ethical and empathetic. The second rule of Rotary International is “Is it good for all concerned?” and in a perfect world nobody would cut corners. The problem is that, while many of us aspire to do the right thing (even when nobody is watching), the question is chronically present about whether our actions match our words.

    Gender and race equality have made big strides over the past few years, spotlighted by movements inspired by #METOO and George Floyd. To be truly ethical and empathetic, team members need an ability to be selfless, caring, helpful, and respectful of others’ religions, cultures, races, and genders. Given the larger societal trends and the ability, through social media, to reward or punish a business based on adherence to these trends, ethics and empathy become two of the most critical skills that a 21st-century employee will need to have if we’re going to truly move to a world that is safer, more harmonic, and more respectful in every way.

    Recognizing these patterns, it’s important to understand the significant skills, behaviors, and attitudes your future employees will need to become contributing global citizens. This participation on a global scale, in turn, will have a positive impact on your own bottom line.


    McKinsey’s Findings

    In an effort to address these and related questions, the McKinsey Global Institute recently completed a survey of 18,000 people in 15 countries. In it they examined the kind of jobs that will be lost or created as automation, AI, and robotics expand their hold. To nobody’s great surprise, MGI determined the need for manual, physical, and basic cognitive skills will decline, even as demand for technological, social, emotional, and higher cognitive skills will grow.

    Their research identified 56 foundational skills, shown in the chart below. Put simply, the better someone is at this set of skills, the better the chances for employment, higher incomes, and job satisfaction.


    Defining Foundational Skills

    Any labor market that’s automated, digital, and dynamic will demand workers have these foundational skills:

    1. An ability to add more value than automation and AI provide
    2. A talent for working in a digital environment
    3. An aptitude for innovation and continual adaptation to this brave new world

    McKinsey defined foundational skills in four broad categories—cognitive, digital, interpersonal, and self-leadership. These were further broken down into 13 separate skill groups.