In a digital age, the skills that offer cut-through are distinctly human. Here’s why ‘soft skills’ are taking center stage in the workplace of the future.

Covid turned technological growth and innovation into a priority. It also propelled us into what many see as a period of enormous potential. It’s estimated, for example, that by 2030 AI will lead to a 26% increase in global GDP.1

However, for many business leaders, this transformation requires a reimagining of how their organization functions day-to-day – and that includes the way their people work and the skills they need to carry out that work in the future.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, 50% of employees will need reskilling by 2025. But a PwC survey of business and HR leaders revealed that only 26% strongly agreed that they could identify the skills required to meet technological change head on.

Watch the video
Watch the video

We take a closer look at the human factors now essential to business success, including an interview with Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. He shares his insights on the specific skills that employees need to power the workplaces of the future. Watch the full interview below or read on for more.

Skills for future jobs

Skills for future jobs

The need for new skills stems from the Where (location) and How (process) of the employee experience – and both have changed enormously during Covid.

What began as disruption, with the mandate for home working and social distancing, has led business leaders to focus on more intentional, flexible and sustainable working solutions: those which support inclusivity, save money and encourage efficiency and a better work-life balance.

For remote and hybrid workers their office could now be inside company HQ, at the kitchen table or even in a café, which brings the challenges of staying connected while apart from the main office – something frontline workers have had to work around for years. And for these deskless workers, although their workplace is the same, how it functions post-Covid may be very different. With more access to real-time data and predictive analytics, cashless payment systems and mobile apps, the landscape of their working day has shifted too and the need to be tech-savvy has increased exponentially.

For frontline workers and their desk-based colleagues, specific skills have been required to navigate the new terrain. But with the current rates of digital advancement, a more wholesale interruption of traditional working practices is also to be expected.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report estimates that, by 2025, 85 million jobs will be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines, while 97 million new jobs are set to emerge. But it’s not just a matter of adding or subtracting positions from the job market. As digital and AI technologies roll out across every industry, leaders must prepare for transformation. Existing roles will evolve – and with that comes the need for employees to evolve with them. It makes upskilling and reskilling a priority.

Automation is reducing the need for manual, repetitive and labor-intensive tasks, but far from ushering in a robot workforce to replace their human counterparts, it’s calling for the kind of soft skills that have long been sidelined as non-essential. In other words, the future work skills now required are, according to Eubanks, “distinctly human”.

“…every time automation comes through,” he says, “whether it's mechanical automation or digital automation, the work that's left behind is a little more human than the work that was there before. It strips away some of the robotic stuff, some of the things we don't even really like to do that much anyway, frankly, and it leaves behind the human skills of work that allow us to really focus on what matters most and build deeper relationships and do our most creative work.”

For more of Eubanks’ insights, watch this video where he discusses the human nature of skills in the digital age.

What are the most important skills for the future of work?

What are the most important skills for the future of work?

It’s the “social and emotional, and higher cognitive skills” that will have real cut through in the future, suggests McKinsey. However, these alone don’t equate to success, it says. Attitude will play a part too. In other words, the way employees approach their job as much as how they deliver. This could mean their ability to deal with uncertainty or their openness to learning new skills in the first place.

Here are six of the most important work skills for the future of work.

  1. Digital competence

    According to the 2022 Global Digital Skills Index, 76% of workers feel unprepared for working in a digital-first world and only 23% of CEOs are considered digitally savvy. From basic computer literacy, including email and chat, to advanced skills such as digital product management and UX design, greater competency is required at every level of every industry.

    Given the pace of change, knowledge also has a relatively short shelf life. It means digital competence – and the competitive advantage that comes with it – can only be maintained through continuous learning and development.

  2. Communication

    Instant messaging, voice calls, video conferences, email – we connect in multiple locations and must understand and be understood in all of them. This means honing written and verbal communication skills, particularly when teams are working from different locations. It also puts a premium on the ability to be clear, concise and jargon-free.

    Effective communication is both bottom up and top down: a two-way process that relies on the ability to listen as much as it requires the capacity to share relevant and timely information with those who need to hear it.

  3. Mental agility

    Our ability to think, learn and absorb new information is underpinned by mental agility. So is our potential to adapt, be creative and meet change with resilience and flexibility. Can your organization pivot when opportunities or adversities arise? Is it able to innovate and do things differently? Does it have the capacity to think outside the box?

    Organizational psychologist Dr Nicole Lipkin suggests approaching people, situations and decisions with “a beginner’s mind, which means abandoning your preconceptions and cultivating curiosity”. Part of this involves nurturing a growth mindset which, says Lipkin, is key to staying afloat and finding your way.

  4. Critical thinking

    We’re in an era of information overload. Being able to evaluate, filter and analyze the facts presented to us comes under the umbrella of critical thinking. It’s a necessary skill in situations that require effective decision making, problem solving, time management and planning.

    Nothing should be taken at face value, but rather rigorously broken down. And in digging deeper it’s possible to lay the foundations for real progress and innovation.

  5. Interpersonal skills

    Remote working has myriad advantages, including better work-life balance. But it also brings with it the risk of isolation, with workers feeling out of the loop and disconnected. The antidote? Great interpersonal skills, including collaboration, communication and empathy.

    An emotionally supportive and inclusive workplace is one where employees are willing and able to look at the world through another’s eyes and understand their perspective. In a culture of mutual acceptance, employees can build relationships grounded in trust and a sense of community. Meanwhile, stronger connections also help with conflict resolution and giving and receiving feedback – vital skills for managers.

  6. Self-management

    Described by McKinsey as “self-leadership”, in its simplest form this is the ability of unsupervised workers to self-motivate. It also encompasses self-awareness and the honest self-appraisal that allows us to play to our strengths and address our weaknesses.

    Self-management requires emotional intelligence: the ability to understand and manage emotions. This in turn leads to greater self-regulation, clarity around decision making and more access to the energy, personal drive and enthusiasm that improves performance and influencing skills, as well as the ability to motivate and inspire others.

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1 "Don't fear AI. It will lead to long-term job growth", World Economic Forum, 2020.
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