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29 April 2022

What skills are needed for the future of the workplace and what can employers do to close the skills gap?

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As we recover from the pandemic, many businesses and organisations are actively seeking to employ people and find the right candidates to fill positions.

There is not a shortage of jobs but there does seem to be a challenge faced by employers in finding suitable candidates with the key skills needed for the jobs that they have to offer. In this article, we will explore some of the main skills needed for the workplace now and as the future of work continues to evolve. We will also explore what leaders can do to build the key skills they need and close the capability gaps within their workplace.

Disruptions to the world of work

In 2020, The World Economic Forum produced a detailed report, The Future of Jobs, in which it highlighted the jobs and skills needed for the future. The report sheds light on the pace of change as well as the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs and skills in the next five years. According to the report the pace of technology adoption is expected to remain unabated and in some key industries is very likely to accelerate.

Three major disruptions have changed and will continue to change the way we all work. Firstly, the Covid-19 Pandemic drastically impacted the global economy and dramatically flipped work on its head for many. Secondly, the Covid-19 Pandemic has massively sped up the adoption of digital technology. Cloud computing, big data and e-commerce remain high priorities for business leaders as well as a significant rise in interest in artificial intelligence, encryption and non-humanoid robots. Thirdly, the rise of automation replaced many jobs traditionally done by human beings.

New skills for a new world of work

According to the Forum’s report, it is estimated that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines. 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, algorithms and machines. As these shifts continue, hiring managers and recruitment professionals across industries have struggled to fill key job positions with candidates sufficiently equipped with the right skills for the right position. So what exactly are these key skills that are needed now more than ever?

As expected, technical skills are high in demand but it is interesting to note that the Forum’s report has put a large emphasis on soft skills too. Soft skills are essentially the most human part of us, they are all the things that robots cannot do! Two job candidates can have the same experience, academics and technical qualifications but the difference between who gets recruited and who ultimately performs better at the job comes down to soft skills, soft skills are a key differentiator.  

What are some of the key skills needed?

  1. Tech savviness This list begins with a hard skill rather than a soft skill but it is one of those skills that none of us can ignore anymore. Job candidates cannot get away with saying, ‘sorry, I am just not a techie!’ Employers want people who are comfortable with technology. Technology continues to transform human society at every level and at minimum every candidate needs a basic grasp of everyday technology.  
  2. Emotional intelligence Long gone are the days when companies used to recruit candidates mostly based on their IQ. Now Emotional Intelligence or EQ is more important than ever. Employers are looking for candidates with the self-awareness to recognise and respond to their own emotions and the emotions of others to be able to navigate an often high-pressured and complex working environment.  
  3. Critical thinking and decision making The ability to critically think through complex issues, evaluate options and then make sound judgement calls and decisions is key to the overall success of any business in terms of productivity, team culture and bottom-line results. Employers want clear-headed strategic thinkers who can make good decisions.  
  4. Problem-solving ability Employers want solution-focused people rather than problem-focused people. Problem-solving is about the ability to approach a problem from a variety of angles, think outside of the box and be creative. The ability to solve problems, think of and implement solutions is a skill that is highly prized and one that would make a candidate stand out among the rest.  
  5. Self-management Remote working and working from home is now common practice. Employers want to hire people they can trust to get on with their work without having to micro-manage. Self-management is about having the ability to organise your time and workload and deliver on your promises.  
  6. Effective communication Effective communication involves verbal communication skills, written communication skills and non-verbal communication. Being clear, concise and accurate in how you convey messages and information to avoid mistakes and misinterpretations is vitally important and a very valuable sought after for employers.  
  7. Leadership Effective leaders build trust, get people on board, engage teams and ultimately shape culture. Great leadership involves a variety of key soft skills including emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration. Great leaders have a strong moral compass and ethics that guide their actions and words. High on the employer’s radar is recruiting potential future leaders.  
  8. Creativity and innovation As digital technology and automation streamline processes, employers need creative and innovative individuals who can think of new ideas, new products and services. Creativity is one of those very human skills that would be difficult if not impossible for machines to truly replicate and that is why this skill becomes even more valuable in our technologically advanced economy.

How can employers close the skills gap?

Identify your skills gaps

The first step to solving any problem is to have an awareness of the problem. As a company, you should acknowledge that you do have a skills gap within the business and then clearly articulate what that skills gap looks like. What are the skills that we are lacking? What skills do we need? Awareness leads to action, now it is time to get buy-in from senior leadership and identify the barriers and challenges that your company is facing when it comes to skills development. Your company’s barrier to skills development may be financial, it could be strategic but once you know what your challenges are it is important to create a strong, cross-functional team dedicated to solving your company’s skills gap challenges.

Build a culture of learning

Building a culture of learning involves many different elements but starts with leadership; empowering employees to learn, develop, innovate and make mistakes. Essentially leaders and managers should foster a growth mindset within employees, a growth mindset is the belief that with the right effort and persistence skills can be developed and improved upon. Your company’s commitment to bridging the skills gaps should go beyond just words but truly champion the value of active lifelong learning by sharing resources with employees for in-demand skills as well as providing a space and/or time during the working week for people to learn. For example, at Microsoft, they hold a learning day every quarter. This is an opportunity for employees to dedicate themselves to learning and skills development. Of course, building a culture of learning involves the investment of money and time into developing your people however when your business has highly skilled employees the tangible benefits will be seen by the business in the long term.

Look out for learners!

Employers need to have realistic expectations when recruiting potential candidates for a specific role, it may be very rare that you find someone with the exact perfect set of skills to meet your requirements. The other thing to bear in mind is that the skills that you are recruiting, for now, could change in a very short space of time and it might be that you are looking for a different set of skills in the future. Look out for learners! People who are willing, eager and able to learn new skills fast, this learning agility is probably the ultimate skill in our increasingly volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex (VUCA) world of work. People who are flexible, adaptable and open to learning can be real assets to your company. With so much technological upheaval and disruption in our new digital economy, it is the learners who will not only survive but thrive.

Visit the MHR Academy to discover how the right LMS can help you retain and develop a productive and committed workplace. 

Hiten Bhatt

Hiten is an international speaker, award-winning author, transformation coach and CEO of The Leadership Adventure.

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