Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the world of work faced major disruption created by the acceleration of digitalisation and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of Things. The World Economic Forum (WEF) executive chairman Klaus Schwab called these changes and challenges ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’.
These changes make this a good time to re-evaluate what key soft skills will be important in the future world of work. We analysed predicted future work trends and recurring themes from a wide range of sources, including the WEF Future of Jobs report. These all suggest that automation and globalisation is likely to drive a significant shift in jobs and skill requirements, creating new demands on people and organisations. Evidence so far suggests COVID-19 is likely to have accelerated these changes.
From this research, we identified the following seven key, foundational competencies we anticipate could be in high demand over the next decade:
1. Critical thinking
Critical thinking and analysis is the skill area with the most increasing demand from organisations, according to the WEF. To deal with complex and ambiguous challenges, people need to be able to appraise data and information from diverse sources, critically evaluate ideas and assumptions, and assimilate information quickly to make decisions.
2. Learning agility
What has worked in the past will not necessarily be effective in future. The pandemic has tested people’s ability to adjust course rapidly, as businesses have faced a fluid and evolving operating context. Going forward, it will be important for leaders and employees to embrace an agile mindset – learning on the fly and applying new learnings quickly.
3. Digital dexterity
Technology will continue to be a major disrupter over the next decade, for example as organisations take more advantage of AI and robotics. This will put people who are able to upskill and leverage these new technologies in their work at an advantage, and it will be important in driving innovation and optimising efficiency of products and services.
4. Building relationships
The rise of automation will put more of a premium on social skills that cannot be easily replicated by machines. The shift to more remote and hybrid working will create new challenges in how organisations facilitate collaboration. Emotional intelligence and social skills will be critical, as people need to connect proactively, build connections and establish trust in virtual and face-to-face settings.
5. Embracing diversity
Already a critical topic for organisations, recent events such as the appalling racial abuse of some of the England football team have only amplified the need for diverse, inclusive and equitable workplaces. Leaders and employees need to ensure they are proactively seeking out diverse perspectives for idea-creation and problem-solving. And we must make sure that people are fairly treated regardless of background, and have the courage to challenge when this is not happening.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on employee well-being and mental health, as people face considerable pressure and uncertainty. It is important for individuals to build personal resilience to help them cope with inevitable setbacks and change. At the same time, organisations must make sure that leaders are creating a supportive climate that helps to build employee well-being.
7. Change orientation
Digitalisation, automation and new technologies will change the nature of jobs, organisational structures and market needs. This requires people to adopt a positive mindset, focused on maximising opportunities and accepting what can and can’t be controlled. With jobs changing and evolving, employees need to be ready to embrace new responsibilities and the chance to develop new skills.
Of course, no-one can be sure what the next decade will bring. The pandemic is a timely reminder of how things can change drastically over a short space of time. However, the likelihood is, the future work context will continue to be fluid and fast moving. These seven key competencies will enable people to be open and flexible in thinking, harness technology, collaborate with others and manage their own attitude and well-being. For organisations, building these competencies through talent acquisition and development activities will help make sure their people are ready for the evolving world of work over the next decade.
CMI’s recently published Better Managers Roadmap can help you navigate the world of hybrid work, with top tips, advice, and further resources to keep you moving forward.
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