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 does someone need in their resume in order to be prepared for the next wave of new jobs due to digitalization?

We all know that lifelong learning is key for a successful career and also to stay atop the ever-changing world. But in the last few years, we have seen an explosion of new topics, science fields, technological advancements and it is also short-lived. Hard skills that someone acquires are maybe already obsolete after just a couple of years. This changes also the world of work. Back in the day, it was possible to get an education and work in this field for your whole life. Today you might get educated and in 10 years 60% of the jobs might not be the same anymore or didn’t even exist while you are starting your high school or university.  Just to give an example for this, the WEF predicted that 35% of the core competencies for jobs will change between 2015 and 2020.

Another interesting fact is that the half-life of skills dropped from 30 years to only 6 years and in general the tendency is clear – some skills might only last for about some months or years before they get replaced or become obsolete.

There is an old saying which might be more important than ever when it comes to hiring people but also educating people. Don’t hire for skill – hire for attitude. Also when it comes to skills, we need to look way more at our personal attributes, build strong foundations and also look for skills that can be universally applied.

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, there is a lot to take care of when developing yourself to be future-proof. This is why I divide it into 2 different areas. The basis and foundations which need to be there do something in the future, then the job-specific skills and competencies to approach complex problems, and personal qualities to improve over time to adapt as good as possible for changes.

Necessary Foundations and Basics

These foundations are the basis for future development. They give every individual the toolset to acquire future skills but also to understand

1. Literacy

Like never before, we consume a lot of information and to expand our own horizons it is necessary to have a good reading/writing competency. It is necessary to learn something new but also to share your knowledge with others.

2. Numeracy

In a world full of data and analytics. It is of utmost importance to have a feeling for numbers, statistics and also understand basic calculations.

3. ICT & Digital Literacy

Understanding how Apps, Websites, Communication Networks, etc. work might 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

Especially for younger generations, financial literacy is a key aspect too. We need to rethink how pensions work, how personal finances are built, and what business models and business finances mean. This will help in projects, founding your own company, or just planning your personal financial future.

5. Cultural Literacy

In a globalized 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 of advantage. This understanding helps leaders, support team-building and help by forming better international partnerships.

6. Scientific Methods Literacy

As mentioned before in Numeracy and Digital literacy, it is important to understand numbers. Also included in there should be an understanding of science and especially scientific methods.

7. Learning Literacy

Knowing how to learn, might be a crucial skill for the future. It might be good to educate you about learning strategies and find the best working methods for you to quickly adapt to changing environments.

8. Ethical Literacy

Knowing about ethics and implications of decisions might help to have the right decisions. This basic literacy is key for international collaboration but also future decision making.

Personal skills and competencies of the future

1. Active Learning / Curiosity / Growth-Mindset

One of the most important skills already upfront, the constant growth mindset. It involves the curiosity to explore new things and also an active learning style to adapt fast to the ever-changing business and technology world. In contrary to most believes, these skills can be learned and nurtured.

2. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

In many surveys, emotional intelligence plays a huge role. EQ describes the ability to be aware of, control, and express the own emotions and those of others. While the world gets more digital, we have to get better at understanding each other. Together with cultural literacy, it can help in many fields of a professional career and can be crucial for team building and company culture.

3. Leadership Skills

While not everyone wants to be a leader or has to be a leader, it is important to know what good leaders do. In a network society everyone can be in a leadership role every once in a while, so learning how to motivate, animate, and also lead people can be a great skill set. A key skill is the ability to inspire and also help others to become the best version of themselves.

4. Communication & Coordination

The world gets more complex and every task usually involves more than just one person. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how to best communicate and coordinate within a team, company, or with external stakeholders. Crucial skills involve transferring the right information to the right person, translating it between different parties, and understanding also others. Additional it is important to also have an understanding of tonality, body language, and human interaction.

5. Judgement & Decision-Making Competencies

Neutral judgment and a holistic and fast decision-making competency are becoming more important in complex situations. While machines still focus on neutral data and give more inputs for decisions, it is the human task to also recognize other factors like e.g. social implications, morale or business, and personnel effects. Therefore, skills are needed to decide with 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 would be “Originality” which involves the aspects of creating novel 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. The reasoning needs to be built on observations, various data resources, and also following logical argument structures.

8. Complex Problem-Solving

Also, in the future complex problems are not easily solved just because we have algorithms and technology. It involves different tasks and is also a big effort on creativity and thinking. This is one of the core skills that will drive a lot of value creation in the future if used right and is then leveraged by technology.

9. Analytical Thinking

Analytical thinking has some similarities with critical thinking. It heavily relies on logical reasoning and tries to eliminate emotions. This skill can be trained by focusing on pros/cons and being open-minded for different solutions, looking for logical structures and connections. Especially with the growing adoption of technology, it will be helpful to have analytical thinking as a connector between humans and technology.

10. Systems Thinking

Teaching yourself how to be aware of connected and interrelated parts and that the whole system has predictable elements. It can be trained by analyzing complex systems, seeing the connections and dependencies, and also finding solutions that impact the whole system or subsystems.

11. Collaboration

Working on a team to achieve a common objective. It involves organizational skills, communication skills, adaptability, and openness. Collaboration skills can be also associated with leadership skills.

12. Negotiation

No matter if it’s about sales, salary, ideas, or other topics. Negotiation skills are crucial to achieving your goals and convincing others. It is a skill that should be trained by everyone as it can be useful in many situations.

13. Self-Reflection / Mindfulness

The capability 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 rationales, so you can act accordingly. With this, you can train another skill – Resilience

14. Resilience / Stress-Tolerance

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

15. Adaptability / Flexibility

Next to learning new things (mentioned before) we also need to be adaptive. Changing roles, changing colleagues, disruptive business models, and many new (digital) channels. The world is changing fast and an important skill is to cope with new situations well and adapt when necessary. This flexibility can be trained as well.

Recap on the future of skills

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

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

Personal tip: Pick the topic that suits you and set the goal to improve a little day by day. This way you naturally improve with these skills over time without the hassle.

CEO & Founder of MoreThanDigital. Serial entrepreneur since he successfully founded his first companies at the age of 13. He has always questioned the "status quo" and is committed to innovation, disruption and new ideas. As International keynote speaker, consultant for companies and governments & states, lecturer and published digital transformation expert, Benjamin tries to advance the topics of digitalization, digital transformation and innovation internationally.

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