Adam Forepaugh and Sells, Circus Poster, 1899 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ideas for Leaders #045

Ten Critical Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce

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Key Concept

Bearing in mind the number of changes or ‘disruptive forces’ which are radically affecting the current business environment and will impact workers and companies over the next decades, this Idea suggests 10 critical skills that every worker will require in the future, to ensure success in their careers and to contribute effectively as professionals.

Idea Summary

The authors say that a qualitative shift is taking place in the ways we work. Their research is based of ongoing studies of the key forces driving change in society, combined with interviews, through which they explore the impact of these changes on workers and their careers. As such, they identify 10 skills they believe will be critical for success in tomorrow’s workforce.

The ‘disruptive forces’ they refer to as making these skills critical for tomorrow’s workers are defined as follows:

  • New media ecology;
  • Superstructed organizations;
  • Computational world;
  • Extreme longevity;
  • Rise of smart machines and systems; and
  • Globally connected world.

These high-level changes are what they believe will account for much of the predicted shift in worker skills. Companies, they say, can enhance their ability to ensure that their employees continuously renew the skills or competencies necessary for achieving and sustaining business goals.

Business Application

The 10 skills are outlined by the authors as follows:

  1. Computational thinking: this is the ability to make sense of the exponentially increasing data at our disposal, into abstract concepts. Familiarity with basic software applications is valuable, but workers must also continue to hone their ability to act in the absence of data.
  2. Design mind-set: the ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes. Workers must become adept at recognizing the kind of thinking that different tasks require.
  3. Cognitive load management: the ability to discriminate and filter information for importance. This is already being witnessed, to some extent, through social filtering (i.e. ranking, tagging, adding metadata to content, etc.).
  4. New media literacy: the critical ability to assess and develop content that uses new media forms, as well as the ability to leverage these media for persuasive communication. The explosion of user-generated media, such as videos, blogs and podcasts, will be fully felt in workplaces in the next decade.
  5. Transdisciplinarity: this is literacy in, and the ability to understand, concepts across multiple disciplines. Ideal workers will need to be “T-shaped,” meaning they will bring deep understanding of at least one field, but have the capacity to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines.
  6. Sense making: the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed. As we renegotiate the human/machine division of labour, critical thinking will emerge as a key skill that workers increasingly need to capitalize on.
  7. Social intelligence: the ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way. Emotionality and social IQ will continue to be vital assets giving human workers a comparative advantage over machines.
  8. Novel and adaptive thinking: proficiency at thinking about, and coming up with, solutions beyond those that are rote/rule-based. This will be a ‘premium’ skill in the next decade, particularly as automation and off-shoring continue.
  9. Cross-cultural competency: the ability to operate in different cultural settings in a truly globally connected world. Workers need to be able to operate in whichever environment they find themselves. Employers, for their part, will need to become better at attracting and orchestrating more diverse teams.
  10. Virtual collaboration: the ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team. Micro-blogging and social networking sites are replacing the traditional water cooler as the places where employees demonstrate their presence.

For individuals, the authors advise using the list above to evaluate their current skills, and then pursuing the right resources to develop and update them. Businesses should also be aware of the changing environment and adapt their strategies to ensure alignment with future skills requirements.

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Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • January 2013

DOI number



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