May 26, 2015

Critical Skills for Success in 2020 and Beyond

The Institute for the Future (IFTF), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based independent, nonprofit strategic research group with more than 40 years of forecasting experience, produced a report, "Future Work Skills 2020," for the University of Phoenix Research Institute. Published in 2011, IFTF explains that "this report analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years." I often meet with college students or young professionals whom are seeking advice about how to compete in an increasingly competitive workforce. There are certain elements worth discussing from the report, which "looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings."

The report outlines six drivers of change:
  1. Extreme Longevity: Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning;
  2. Rise of Smart Machines and Systems: Workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks;
  3. Computational World: Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system;
  4. New Media Ecology: New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text;
  5. Superstructed Organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation; and
  6. Globally Connected World: Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations.
What do these six disruptive forces mean for the workers of the next decade and beyond? The report identified ten skills that will be critical for success in the workforce:
  1. Sense-making: The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed;
  2. Social intelligence: The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions;
  3. Novel & adaptive thinking: Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based;
  4. Cross-cultural competency: The ability to operate in different cultural settings;
  5. Computational thinking: The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning;
  6. New-media literacy: The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication;
  7. Transdisciplinarity: Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines;
  8. Design mindset: The ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes;
  9. Cognitive load management: The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques; and
  10. Virtual collaboration: The ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.
While all six drivers are important in shaping the landscape in which each skill emerges, the color-coding and placement in the chart below indicate which drivers have particular relevance to the development of each of the skills.

The report is correct to note that "the results of this research have implications for individuals, educational institutions, business, and government." Furthermore, "To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners."

As for businesses, I wholeheartedly agree that they "must also be alert to the changing environment and adapt their workforce planning and development strategies to ensure alignment with future skill requirements." Moreover, "Strategic human resource professionals might reconsider traditional methods for identifying critical skills, as well as selecting and developing talent. Considering the disruptions likely to reshape the future will enhance businesses' ability to ensure organizational talent has and continuously renews the skills necessary for the sustainability of business goals. A workforce strategy for sustaining business goals should be one of the most critical outcomes of human resource professionals and should involve collaborating with universities to address lifelong learning and skill requirements."

The six disruptive forces and ten essential skills apply for the second decade of the 21st Century and beyond. Do you agree or disagree? What would you add to this list?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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