Skills for the future

There is only one thing that almost all companies, HR practitioners, and employees agree on – the world of work is changing, and fast. Technology has transformed entire industries, disrupted all major organizations, and the only constant is change. Between the pace of technological change, market demands, and geo-political pressures, companies are changing fast, and expect their employees to keep up too. Investments in training and development are at their lowest, but the need for constant change and development has never been higher.

For employees too, the life-long career model has completely disappeared, replaced by versions of flexible careers and the gig economy. The worker is responsible for their own career and growth.

I’ve been doing some reading and talking to people about what they see coming up, in the next few years. What skills, attitudes, do companies look for? This is what I found.

  1. Career flexibility : You are no longer defined by your skills (engineer, accountant, IT) but by your outcomes. As people project manage their own careers, the outcomes they achieve become more critical to employers than the skills they bring to the table. Employers do not have the luxury of hiring, training and developing people anymore. Which means you might be the IT guy today, the project manager tomorrow, and the IT consultant the day after. Roles, skills, and expected outcomes change quickly, and we need people who are flexible and ready to change.
  2. Flexible teams. Without clearly defined roles and hierarchies, the workplace of the future comprises of people who come together to work on a project, then move on to other things. This requires the ability to work with all kinds of people, and achieve good results. This also requires you to build and maintain a strong network of connections, helping each other when their project requires your specific skills.
  3. Understanding data. Data is every where, and it is being used in ways that we couldn’t imagine even 5 years ago. Data analytics is one of the most in-demand skills today. But even for the non-data analytics people, it is important to understand data. You would need to know the right questions to ask of the data and analysis that is presented to you, and also think past the first level of analysis to understand the business implications of the data. Be able to answer the “so what?”. Equally important, understand what the data is not telling you, understand how it can be misleading, and be able to use it wisely.
  4. Cultural sensitivity, working across cultures. The world is shrinking, like it or not, and the opportunities of tomorrow will lie across the world. Managers who have multi-cultural work experience are more effective at senior levels, and will continue to be in demand. Our workplaces are not as diverse and inclusive as we’d like them to be, today- but this is a change that cannot be rolled back. Your coworkers will have diverse backgrounds, experiences, ages, and orientations, and working with them is not a choice.
  5. Be excited about technology. This is the tricky one. Technology permeates every aspect of our lives, what is there to be excited, you ask. Technology is changing the workplace exponentially, and every worker needs to be on board with it. Learning, unlearning and relearning (credit: Alvin Toffler) tools, systems, and processes, ways of thinking, ways of working, measures of success. Rather than be afraid of what the technology involves, or how it could disrupt the industry, managers, leaders and workers need the attitude of enjoying technology. Playing with it, seeing what it can do, seeing how it works with other tools and systems and knowing when to use which – being like a chef experimenting in the kitchen.
  6. Continuous learning. All of the above boils down to this – learning all the time. The world is changing too fast for anyone to wait for the right time to learn. Whether online or classroom, through books or apps, newer degrees or diplomas – learning has never been easier, more expensive, and more critical. Culture, technology, data, attitudes – all of it can be learnt. The ability to learn empowers you and me with the knowledge that whatever needs to be done, I can learn to do it.

I’ve left out design thinking, user experience, etc. Not because I do not think they’re important, but they are covered by the broader categories above. To me, they are like the Six Sigma, 5S, and other quality movements of the nineties and 2000s – requiring organization-wide efforts to be valuable. Data analytics forces a completely new way of thinking, at all levels of leadership, which is why that is on my list.

I’d like to hear what my readers think. Do you agree with my list? What else am I missing?



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