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  • Jude Mahony

The Future of Work? Skills of the future?

What has become very clear over the course of the last few weeks, is that the skills of the future and our future workforce is here with a vengeance.

If you’ve been lucky (!?!) enough to hear me on my soapbox, then you would have heard me say that the future of work is now and has always been now.

Skills have always changed, the demands of our world and environment have forced us to continually change how we work, where we work and what work is undertaken.

The workforce has always changed, adapted and adjusted to suit the conditions, and so have we, to stay relevant and employable. We may not have always been in front of the curve, but we haven’t been far behind (sometimes running to catch up as some of us are now!).

We have tried our hardest to be a step ahead, but that hasn’t always been possible with the rate of change of technology and global conditions.

The world of work I entered a few moons ago, is very different to the world of work of yesterday and the world of work of today, is hugely different again.

Changes in technology have been vast in my work lifetime and will continue to grow and evolve with machine learning and artificial intelligence. The fear that computers are taking our jobs is a very real fear for some (notably HR – not CEO’s), but data out of the US suggests that there is actually only one specific job that has disappeared completely due to technology (read about that here).

There are definitely jobs that have changed due to technology, and roles that will continue to change due to technology, but one thing is obvious right at this point in time – there are a huge number of roles that are more relevant than ever and will not be impacted severely by technology.

Tasks have definitely disappeared or changed (most for the better), but remember, jobs are made up of tasks which can, and do, flex across different jobs.

Those tasks require specific skills to undertake and those skills are adapting and adjusting as the tasks move across jobs, teams and in some cases, locations; or the tasks change with technological improvements.

The skills of the future, as defined by WEF in 2016, are not necessarily technical skills, but personal or transferrable skills.

(I really dislike the term “soft-skills” and the connotations that go with it. These skills are actually the super-power skills that are transferrable across industries, across locations, across roles and should not be understated).

Those WEF top 10 transferrable skills for 2020:

  1. complex problem solving,

  2. critical thinking,

  3. creativity,

  4. people management,

  5. coordinating with others,

  6. emotional intelligence,

  7. judgment and decision making,

  8. service orientation,

  9. negotiation,

  10. cognitive flexibility

They are similar to the top 10 skills from 2015, with a change in their priority and the addition of emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

Let’s be honest, in this COVID-19 world, the top three transferrable skills are clearly required to navigate the constantly changing demands, information overload and understanding how to work and socialise in this new (virtual) reality.

Also critical is the ability to apply your emotional intelligence (EI) and resilience to this situation. Though EI is not in the top three, it is a new addition to the top 10 from 2015 and is seen as a key requirement in this Fourth Industrial Revolution – even more essential in this rapidly changing environment.

The jobs that are in high demand are roles that have always been in high demand and require:

  1. those top three transferrable skills:

  • complex problem solving,

  • critical thinking and

  • creativity


which are absolute pre-requisites for any care-giver roles (medical and non-medical), leadership positions, hospitality, retail, logistics – pretty much any business related positions that need a different lens applied to how to stay in business, how to stay relevant and how to stay economically viable.

  1. emotional intelligence to be able to respond, not react, to what can be an anxiety filled new reality for individuals and teams; and EI for your own self-awareness and ability to remain calm and rational during a storm of emotionally charged interactions.

Our front-line workers are showing their amazing technical skills, AND their well-developed emotional intelligence when dealing with a world upended.

All of these in-demand jobs require stores of resilience, emotional intelligence and superior cognitive abilities to be able to remain calm and collected in pressure-cooker situations. (Huge hats off.)

Some of these roles will change in the future (maybe automation of warehousing akin to the movie “Storks”), as tasks change with technology, but what won’t change are those transferrable super-power skills.

We have seen a change in hiring attitudes already where redeployment of employees from airlines into retail chains has been solely reliant on transferrable skills (eg Jetstar to Woolies for instance - customer service skills are key) with no or limited reliance on technical capabilities. The future of work and the skills of the future are here and now, and being used adeptly and creatively!

Technology, social and emotional skills are the skills that will continue to accelerate. Tasks will continue to need to be undertaken. How, where and by who those tasks are completed and what specific skills are required, will need some essential, targeted workforce planning.

If you are struggling to understand how you can improve your transferrable skills and keep up with the changes, have a look at some of our online emotional intelligence assessments and courses, and technology specific learning packages here.

For support with workforce planning and understanding your critical roles, skills and behavioural requirements, contact us here. We can help you to benchmark your key skills across different roles and build your workforce to suit.

For those in genuine hardship, please reach out – we are happy to help, no matter your financial circumstances.

Author: Jude Mahony

4th April 2020