These Job Skills Once Topped a Forecast for 2020. Do They Hold Up?

Author: Barbara Palmer       

job skills

Neuroscientist Sara Ross, founder of BrainAMPED, speaks on the subject of emotional intelligence at 2019 PCMA EduCon. Emotional, or social, intelligence shows up on current lists of the top skills that will be needed in the future, (Jacob Slaton Photography)

Four years ago, Inc. published an online list of the top skills that workers will need in the future — a future that now is almost upon us. We decided to check in on the “Top 10 Most Important Work Skills for 2020” list to see how relevant those insights remain in light of more recent research and projections.

The skills, which were forecast by the Institute for the Future, included:

1. Sense making
The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.

One of the most consistent predictions by futurists and others is that critical thinking skills will only become more important in the future. (If you can do your job without thinking about it very much, that might be a sign that it is ripe for automation.) Given the growing complexity of the world, another skill that is gaining importance is the ability to ask the right questions.

RELATED: Top 10 Job Skills for 2023

2. Social intelligence
Ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.

Social, or emotional, intelligence (also known as EQ, for emotional quotient), also shows up on current lists of the top skills that will be needed in the future, including in the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) 2018 report, “Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce.” It’s also an area where there appears to be a significant skills gap: In a survey conducted by neuroscientist Sara Ross, founder of BrainAMPED, 96 percent of respondents said that they knew what emotional intelligence is, but only 13 thought that their colleagues demonstrated the skill.

3. Novel and adaptive thinking
Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based.

Novel thinking is another word for creativity, a skill that has been climbing in top skill lists for the last few years. Adaptability may be the new EQ, according the MGI skill shift report: “Along- side more general intelligence, adaptability may become a significant differentiator for workers in a future with automation,” the report said.

4. Cross-cultural competency
Ability to operate in different cultural settings.

In 2014, this skill may have been interpreted principally as the ability to navigate in a variety of international settings. That’s still important, but its meaning also has deepened to include the ability to work in diverse and inclusive settings wherever you are. “The case for establishing a truly diverse workforce, at all organizational levels, grows more compelling each year,” wrote Vijay Eswaran, executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies, on the World Economic Forum’s website earlier this year. “The moral argument is weighty enough, but the financial impact — as proven by multiple studies — makes this a no-brainer. The coming together of people of different ethnicities with different experiences in cities and societies is a key driver of innovation.”

5. Computational thinking
Ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.

This likely would be expressed today as “data literacy,” a skill that has been likened to the ability to read and write. The Gartner research firm predicted this year that by 2020, 50 percent of organizations will lack sufficient AI and data literacy skills to achieve business value. “The ability to ‘speak data,’” said Valerie Logan, a senior director analyst at Gartner, “will become an integral aspect of most day-to-day jobs.”

6. New media literacy
Ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication.

There is no doubt that staying abreast of new communication platforms and understanding how to use them will remain a critical job skill in the future. But the world “persuasive” today sounds slightly sinister, when presented without a clear understanding of the need for an ethical framework around data. “Users are starting to be savvier,” David Ryan Polgar, founder of the All Tech is Human conference, told Convene earlier this year. They’re recognizing that their data is valuable — “it’s the 21st-century oil,” he said. “Being open about what you plan to do with attendee data is critical.”

7. Transdisciplinary
Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.

The term sounds a little dated — we’re likely to think of things as being multidisciplinary — but this is a way of thinking that is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The challenges that companies and individuals face are too complicated to be solved by one specialized discipline alone. Cultivating multidisciplinary thinking requires curiosity and a willingness to continue learning far beyond the years of formal education, according to an Institute for the Future report on future workplace skills.

8. Design Mindset
Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes.

“Design-thinking techniques can feel a little counterintuitive to those who are accustomed to focusing on solutions first,” Michael Glatts, Pfizer’s senior director for global congresses, told Convene in 2018. “Design thinking flips that impulse, asking practitioners to obsess — not over solutions,” he said, “but over problems.” Design-thinking processes, which include empathetic interviewing, observation, and storytelling, draw on a host of other skills, including emotional intelligence, creativity, and flexibility.

9. Cognitive load management
Ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functions.

As a growing cascade of recent books with titles like Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and How to Break Up With Your Phone demonstrate, the ability to focus on what’s important is increasingly prized. Unlike computers, humans usually don’t do their best work when they multitask.

10. Virtual collaboration
Ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

With research showing that remote workers are less stressed and more productive, it’s not surprising to learn that hiring managers surveyed by Upwork expect that up to 38 percent of their full-time workers will be working remotely in the next decade. One trend to watch for: knowing when it is more productive to use digital tools, and when it is most effective to work face-to-face.

Bright Future for Events?

While the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report 2018” finds that increased demand for new roles will offset the decreasing demand for others, “these net gains are not a foregone conclusion,” according to the report, entailing “difficult transitions for millions of workers and the need for proactive investment in developing a new surge of agile learners and skilled talent globally.”

In order to prevent, the report continues, “an undesirable lose-lose scenario — technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment, and growing inequality — it is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning.”

Reskilling, upskilling, and lifelong learning — these are important professional requirements that the business events industry has long supported, and as the WEF points out, will become even more urgent in the future.

Download the full “Future of Jobs Report 2018.”

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