23 skills of the future – Important skills for the jobs of 21th century

What are the most important job skills of the future and what should you learn?

We explain the most important skills of the future. What skills do you need on your CV to be ready for the next wave of new jobs driven by digitalisation?

We all know that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career and to staying ahead in an ever-changing world. But in recent years we have seen an explosion of new subjects, scientific fields and technological advances, and they are also short-lived. The hard skills you acquire may be obsolete within a few years. This is also changing the world of work. It used to be that you could get an education and work in that field all your life. Today, you can train and in 10 years’ time, 60% of the jobs may not be the same or may not have existed when you started school or university.

There is an old saying that may be more relevant than ever when it comes to hiring people, but also when it comes to training people. Don’t hire for skills – hire for attitude. Even when it comes to skills, we need to look much more at our personal attributes, build strong foundations and also look for skills that can be universally applied.

Decreasing half-life of skills and competences

The decreasing half-life of skills is a direct result of technological advances. As new technologies are developed, the skills required to use them become obsolete. For example, 10 years ago the skills required to use a smartphone did not exist. Today, smartphones are ubiquitous and the skills required to use them are taken for granted. In just a few years, the same will be true of new technologies that have yet to be invented.

A report by the World Economic Forum found that the average half-life of a skill is 6 years, and this is expected to fall to just 2.5 years by 2030. This means that in less than 10 years, the average person will need to learn new skills more than twice as often as they do today.

To stay ahead of the curve, you need to keep learning and upgrading your skills. The best way to do this is to make learning a habit. Set aside a certain amount of time each day or week to learn new things. This can be anything from reading articles or books, to taking online courses, to attending workshops or conferences. The important thing is to make sure you are constantly learning and developing your skills.

Top skills for future jobs

23 skills of the future – Important skills for the jobs of 21th century
23 skills of the future – What are the most important skills and competencies of the 21th century? – Source: Own illustration

As mentioned above, there is a lot to consider when developing for the future. That is why I divide it into 2 different areas. The basics and foundations that need to be in place to do something in the future, then the job-specific skills and competencies to tackle complex problems, and the personal qualities that need to improve over time to adapt as well as possible to change.

Necessary foundations and basics

These are the foundations for future development. They provide each individual with the tools to acquire future skills, but also to understand

1. Literacy

We are consuming more information than ever before and in order to broaden our horizons we need to be able to read and write well. It is necessary to learn something new, but also to share your knowledge with others.

2. Numeracy

In a world full of data and analysis. It is vital to have a feel for numbers, statistics and to understand basic calculations.

3. ICT & Digital Literacy

Understanding how apps, websites, communication networks, etc. work can be helpful when it comes to understanding future challenges. It is good to have a basic understanding of how the digital world works.

4. Financial literacy

Financial literacy is also a key issue, especially for younger generations. We need to rethink how pensions work, how personal finances are built and what business models and business finances mean. This will help with projects, starting your own business or simply planning your personal financial future.

5. Cultural literacy

In a globalised world we need to understand each other very well. A basic understanding of differences in culture, language, generations, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or political orientation can be beneficial. This understanding helps leaders, supports team building and helps to build better international partnerships.

6. Scientific literacy

As mentioned in numeracy and digital literacy, it is important to understand numbers. This should also include an understanding of science and in particular scientific methods.

7. Learning literacy

Knowing how to learn may be a crucial skill for the future. It may be a good idea to teach you about learning strategies and the best ways to work so that you can adapt quickly to changing environments.

8. Ethical competence

Knowing about ethics and the implications of decisions can help you make the right ones. This basic literacy is key for international cooperation, but also for future decision making.

Personal skills and competences of the future

1. Active Learning / Curiosity / Growth Mindset

One of the most important skills is the constant growth mindset. It includes the curiosity to explore new things and also an active learning style to adapt quickly to the ever-changing world of business and technology. Contrary to popular belief, these skills can be learned and nurtured.

2. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

In many surveys, emotional intelligence plays an important role. EQ is the ability to recognise, manage and express one’s own emotions and those of others. As the world becomes more digital, we need to understand each other better. Together with cultural competence, it can help in many areas of a professional career and can be crucial for team building and company culture.

3. Leadership skills

While not everyone wants or needs to be a leader, it is important to know what good leaders do. In a networked society, everyone can be in a leadership role from time to time, so learning how to motivate, energise and also lead people can be a great skill. A key skill is the ability to inspire and help others to become the best version of themselves.

4. Communication & Coordination

The world is becoming increasingly complex and any task usually involves more than one person. It is therefore vital to understand how best to communicate and coordinate within a team, an organisation or with external stakeholders. Key skills include getting the right information to the right person, translating it between different parties and understanding others. It is also important to have an understanding of tone, body language and human interaction.

5. Judgement & decision-making skills

Neutral judgement and the ability to make holistic and rapid decisions will become increasingly important in complex situations. While machines continue to focus on neutral data and provide more inputs for decisions, it is the human task to recognise other factors such as social implications, morale or business and personnel effects. This requires the ability to make decisions under uncertainty and with many input variables in a short period of time.

6. Creativity, Ideation, and Innovation

A key skill to develop solutions, processes, and products of the future. This is also a skill machine currently can not compete with and therefore a very future-proof skill to develop. It also involves the techniques for generating new ideas or brainstorming. In contrary to most believes, creativity can be nurtured and trained.

Another skill that can be added is ‘originality’, which includes the aspects of creating new ideas and new concepts without the limitations of current solutions.

7. Critical Thinking – Reasoning

Critical thinking is a skill that is a basis for solving complex problems. It is a key skill for many companies and teams to evolve and develop new solutions in the best possible way. Reasoning needs to be based on observations, different data sources and also follow logical argumentation structures.

8. Complex problem solving

Even in the future, complex problems will not be solved simply because we have algorithms and technology. It involves different tasks and also requires a lot of creativity and thinking. This is one of the core skills that will drive a lot of value creation in the future, if used correctly and then leveraged by technology.

9. Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking shares some similarities with critical thinking. It relies heavily on logical reasoning and seeks to eliminate emotion. This skill can be trained by focusing on pros and cons, being open to different solutions and looking for logical structures and connections. Especially with the increasing use of technology, it will be helpful to have analytical thinking as a link between people and technology.

10. Systems thinking

Teach yourself to be aware of interconnected and interdependent parts and that the whole system has predictable elements. It can be trained by analysing complex systems, seeing the connections and dependencies, and also finding solutions that affect the whole system or subsystems.

11. Collaboration

Working in a team to achieve a common goal. It involves organisational skills, communication skills, adaptability and openness. Collaboration skills can also be linked to leadership skills.

12. Negotiating

Whether it’s sales, salary, ideas or anything else. Negotiation skills are crucial to achieving your goals and convincing others. It is a skill that everyone should practice as it can be useful in many situations.

13. Self-reflection / Mindfulness

The ability to learn about yourself and understand your cognitive and emotional reactions can be very useful. In fast-changing environments and stressful situations, it is good to understand your own feelings and motivations so that you can act accordingly. This allows you to develop another skill – resilience.

14. Resilience / Stress Tolerance

Resilience is an ability that helps people cope with extreme situations or crises. It includes the ability to protect yourself from negative effects and to recover from difficulties.

15. Adaptability / Flexibility

In addition to learning new things (mentioned above), we also need to be adaptable. Changing roles, changing colleagues, disruptive business models and many new (digital) channels. The world is changing fast and an important skill is to be able to deal with new situations well and to adapt when necessary. This flexibility can also be trained.

The Role of Human Intelligence in the Future

There are many skills on the list that could be essential for the jobs of the early 21st century. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add a little more food for thought: it’s crucial to recognise the transformative impact of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI, on the future landscape of employment and skills requirements. The rise of AI heralds a significant shift not only in the types of jobs available, but also in the skills that will be valued in these new roles. As AI and automation take over more routine and data-driven tasks, we’re seeing a shift towards jobs that require human intuition, creativity, emotional intelligence and strategic thinking. This technological evolution will also disrupt many industries as a whole.

However, in the midst of this rapid technological advancement, a critical discourse is emerging, highlighting that the fundamental elements of human value and labour have remained consistent throughout history, but that this may be about to change. Past trends, such as the shift from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy, did not diminish the need for human skills, but rather transformed them; the digital revolution, driven by AI and automation, is not eliminating the need for human skills, but is, at least initially, reshaping them. History teaches us that every major technological leap, while displacing certain jobs, has created new opportunities and avenues for human endeavour. The nature of human work is evolving, emphasising skills that machines cannot replicate – creativity, emotional intelligence and strategic thinking.

Moreover, as we stand on the brink of a potential shift to an entertainment and experience-driven world, where automation and algorithms free humans from “drudgery”, it is prompting a reassessment of what we value in human contributions. This transition offers an opportunity to refocus human endeavour on creativity, personal development and community engagement – areas where human touch and empathy are irreplaceable.

However, there remains a challenge for most workers and the majority of the workforce: Closing the gap between current skills and those required for the future. As the world increasingly moves towards digital value creation, it is essential for every organisation and individual to adopt a strategy that includes the acquisition and enhancement of digital and AI-related skills, without losing sight of the timeless human skills that have driven progress through every age of human history. The integration of AI into our working lives doesn’t mean an end, but a transformation, but this list also shows that very basic skills will always be needed to keep up with this transformation.

Summary of the future of skills

There are many skills that everyone should have. It is impossible to work on every skill in this list and to embody everything perfectly in one person. These skills are in high demand and will continue to be in high demand because they are independent of economic development. Therefore, it would be wise to suggest that everyone assess their strengths and weaknesses and work on them in their personal way.

Everyone should think about basic literacy and then about skills such as creativity, analytical thinking, interpersonal communication, as these will all be helpful in any work environment.

Personal tip: Pick a topic that suits you and set yourself the goal of improving a little every day. In this way, you will naturally improve these skills over time without any effort.

Benjamin Talin, a serial entrepreneur since the age of 13, is the founder and CEO of MoreThanDigital, a global initiative providing access to topics of the future. As an influential keynote speaker, he shares insights on innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship, and has advised governments, EU commissions, and ministries on education, innovation, economic development, and digitalization. With over 400 publications, 200 international keynotes, and numerous awards, Benjamin is dedicated to changing the status quo through technology and innovation. #bethechange Stay tuned for MoreThanDigital Insights - Coming soon!

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