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Skills of the Future: What Skills Will Be Most in Demand in 2020?


It’s impossible to deny it: the job market is transforming, and fast. With many of the careers of today likely phasing out and evolving or being replaced with never-before-seen jobs in the fields of neuroscience and bioengineering, renewable energy, 21st century transportation, and even the domains of creativity and ethics, it’s hard to imagine what the professional landscape might look like in two to three years, much less in 20.

Experts agree that the best thing we can do to prepare for a future in which we don’t know exactly what will happen is to embrace change. “It’s very clear that what our kids need to do is to learn how to learn, to become more flexible and adaptable,” says Susan Lund, a partner at McKinsey. But this conversation doesn’t just concern kids, it’s about those of us already deep into our careers who may see drastic changes to our working lives in the coming years.

One of the best ways to prepare for future changes is to harness the skills that will be in high demand in the years to come. Last year, the World Economic Forum published a report forecasting the top 10 job skills employers will be looking for in the year 2020. Let’s take a closer look at the list and discuss why these skills are so relevant for the market of the not-too-distant future.

1. Complex problem solving
This skill is timeless, having also made the World Economic Forum’s 2015 list, and it’s not hard to see why. The issues confronting companies, from robotics and AI to issues around trade and globalization require professionals ready to engage in the process of complex problem solving to help their companies achieve their objectives. Additionally, with Agile project management and dispersed teams, it becomes less and less the norm that your boss simply tells you what to do, and thus the skill of being able to attack hard problems on your own is increasingly helpful in the workplace.

2. Critical thinking
The importance of being able to objectively observe a situation or problem and work through it rationally and without becoming too emotionally involved can’t be understated in a business context. As we all know, difficult situations come up every day in the workplace, and the ability to remain rational and work step by step towards a solution is a skill valuable to any employer, whether they are hiring a new COO or a new receptionist.

3. Creativity
Creativity has made the biggest jump on this list since 2015, from number ten to number three. We’ve seen a growing trend in companies seeking out creativity in its workers and trying to promote and cultivate it among current staff. And if you think that being creative means you have to have a background in art or music, think again. “If you've labeled yourself as a "non-creative" person,” says Marcel Schwantes in Inc., “but your strength lies in problem solving and connecting the dots with seemingly disparate information, and putting the best ideas together to propose a complex new product launch with exceptional communication skills, guess what? You're a creative person.”

4. People management
Perhaps because we are bound to work more and more with machines, our relationships with the people with whom we work are more important than ever. Self-managed teams and remote working make people management a skill that’s no longer just necessary for managers, but for all employees.

5. Coordinating with others
Like people management, coordinating with others is increasingly necessary in a world of increased technological intervention in the workplace. Luckily, there are now more digital tools to communicate and coordinate with colleagues than ever before, including messaging tools like Slack, project management software, and teleconferencing systems that allow anyone to participate in a meeting regardless of where they are. However, with many employees overwhelmed by messaging apps and emails, keeping a mindful attitude toward digital tools is key to effective inter-colleague coordination.

6. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence makes a new appearance on the list from which it was absent in 2015. However, this is should be no surprise, particularly for leaders. According to Brian Tracy, benefits such as hyper-awareness, improved interaction with colleagues, and better communication are reasons to cultivate the important skill of emotional intelligence. “When dealing with others,” he says, “truly try to place yourself in their situation. It will help you choose the best method to solve problems and achieve your goals.”

7. Judgment and decision-making
Sound judgement and good decision-making are skills that serve us both inside and outside the workplace. Good decision-making skills are harnessed by adhering to a few practical strategies, says Art Zeigler, including maintaining objectivity, remaining fair and balanced, and performing a full risk assessment of any outcomes. If you’re able to make good decisions, even under pressure, you’re bound to succeed.

8. Service orientation
While it’s true that not all jobs require employees to interact directly with clients, being service oriented, or rather, putting your customer first when developing, planning, and carrying out services is a must for each part of any company. Even companies who build physical products need to think hard about the service their products are providing, and how they are going to deal with the customer care down the road.

9. Negotiation
Negotiation isn’t just a skill needed by CEOs and sales executives, it’s something we can all benefit from. As MaryEllen Tribby explains, “The ability to negotiate properly is absolutely critical in your day-to-day business activities.” The key traits of a good negotiator, including knowing what you’re worth and defining your desired outcome before talks begin, can come in handy whether you’re discussing a million-dollar deal or ordering catering for the annual company Christmas party.

10. Cognitive flexibility
Cognitive flexibility “relates to our working memory and how we make mental associations; how we inhibit or suppress some stimuli or focus on others; how we plan, consider reactions and make judgments; or how we shift our thinking and consider different paths,” explains Rawn Shah in Forbes. This skill grows more and more vital as companies evolve and adapt their business models to fit into a changing economy. The easier it is for us to think outside the box and come up with innovative new solutions or ways of understanding problems, the better we’ll survive in the future.

Of course, depending on your job role or personality, some of these skills may be more helpful than others, but it’s good to think of them as a toolkit that you should have ready in order to be prepared for the business world of the future. Although an age dominated by AI and new ways of working may seem daunting, there are exciting times ahead. “One of the most powerful implications of current trends,” says Raya Bidschahri, “is that ‘work’ will become more meaningful as we are left to perform jobs requiring more creativity, intellectual pursuits, and human interaction, potentially leading many of us happier than we are today.”

Innential provides in-company assessments and business training courses for companies looking to improve the skills of their employees. Find out more at innential.com today!