What Skills Do Workers Need for the Future?

Posted by Emma Rose Gallimore on August 13, 2019

It's a truth not yet universally acknowledged that skills are more important than degrees in today's economy. Proactive employers are reworking job postings and hiring processes to bring in applicants with the right aptitudes. They're also training workers to improve vital competencies. It's a step in the right direction. But are employers doing enough?

If they're only developing workers for immediate needs, employers will never see real progress.

It's not enough to train and hire for the needs of today; they have to build a workforce that will continue to be effective in the face of changing job demands. Which begs the question: what skills do workers need for the future?

Prioritizing skills over credentials

Around 2008, when the recession caused an overabundance of workers to flood the market, employers fell into the habit of looking for workers with degrees. Having a degree was a signal that the applicant likely had certain capabilities. At the time, there was an abundance of job-seeking college graduates to choose from.

Today, the unemployment rate is at a thirty-year low and the labor market is tight. At the same time, technology is shifting the nature of work.

As a result, smart employers have shifted their new hire search criteria to prioritize skills over degrees. Employers are also paying closer attention to their existing workforce. The changing nature of work is affecting established employees as well. An employee who graduated with a degree several years ago, might not have the skills necessary to do the job today.

The solution to both new hire and employee skills gaps is continuous skills training throughout their employment. But on which skills should employers focus their attention?

Skills that never expire

The Next Era Of Human|Machine Partnerships report estimates that 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven't even been invented yet. Any attempts to guess at the skills needed to do those jobs can be no more accurate than informed speculations. However, informed speculation is better than ignoring the problem.

It's difficult to guess where technology will take us next. What is certain is that people will be called upon to do what technology cannot: communicate, lead, collaborate across teams, etc. These competencies are often referred to as soft skills. (Although some feel that the term minimizes their value.) Whether you call them essential skills, professional competencies, or human skills, they'll certainly be in high demand into the future.

Pearson led an intensive research project to identify the skills that will be most valuable for workers in the future. Their list comprises 20 skills including complex problem solving, speaking, and what they call "social perceptiveness, being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do."

Among these professional competencies, none is more important than the ability to learn. Employees who are open to growth and development, have learned study skills, and see learning as part of their job will bring value no matter how technology changes the business. Better yet, these employees will be able to evolve in response to need demands because they know that skills training is a lifelong journey, not a four-year degree.

Skills forecasting within organizations

All that being said, generalized assumptions about skills needs are useful only up to a point. Ideally, your business would know which skills are likely to be needed by workers in your industry. It would be even better to know which skills your business will demand of its workers in the future.

Finding industry trends is easy enough. The World Economic Forum publishes a yearly Future of Jobs Report that analyzes skills demands by industry. Other big picture researchers like McKinsey and Pearson also have advice to share. But individual businesses within an industry are unique. Only you can identify the skills your business will demand in the future.

Just as you can estimate future costs or project expected demand, you can forecast the skills that workers in your business will need for the future. Doing so takes two crucial pieces of information:

  1. Industry trends analysis, easily obtained from one of the organizations mentioned above.
  2. Your business goals based on how you'd like the business to evolve into the future.

When it comes to goals, consider the big picture for the next three, five or 10 years. Contemplate these questions:

  • By how much would you like to grow revenue?
  • Are you changing service or product offerings?
  • Is your clientele shifting?
  • Do you expect to add more workers or scale down your workforce?
  • Will you add new technology or equipment?
  • What other changes can you see coming?

With the answers to these questions in mind, you can start to think about the skills workers will need. For example, if you're scaling down your workforce, you might need to cross-train employees to take on new responsibilities.

Once you know where you're going, you can make a plan to get there. Reach out to an education partner who can help you upskill your employees for the future. Your education partner will work with you to identify courses and training programs, or even build a customized training path, for your employees. With clear goals in mind and an experienced education partner in your corner, your employees will have the skills they need for whatever the future holds.