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The 10 key skills for the future of work

What are the jobs of the future? The demographics of an aging population suggests health care will be big, say some. Data science is scheduled to explode, suggest others, or maybe anything computer-related is a solid bet. But let’s be honest, predicting exact job titles set to soar or the fates of specific sectors is nearly impossible.

With technology and economic developments moving so quickly, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on today, more or less foresee what career paths will make you a winner in a decade or two. But even if betting on specific jobs is a fool’s game, the Institute for the Future believes it is still possible to say something useful about how to prepare yourself for the careers of tomorrow.

The Palo Alto, Calif.–based nonprofit research center focuses on long-term forecasting and recently released a report titled “Future Work Skills 2020” (available for free download here) that analyzes some of the key drivers reshaping work — including WebWorkerDaily’s greatest hits like connectivity, smart machines and new media — coming up not with specific, recommended professional paths but instead with broad skills that will help workers adapt to the changing career landscape. What are they?

  • Sense-making. The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence. The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking. Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency. The ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking. The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy. The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity. Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mind-set. Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • 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
  • Virtual collaboration. The ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Check out the complete report for a detailed description of why each of these skills will be key. It also delves into the implications for education, business and policymakers of the projected increase in demand for these skills, noting that current educational establishments at “primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, are largely the products of technology infrastructure and social circumstances of the past.” They will need to adapt rapidly to the changing needs of students, the report concludes.

Do you agree that these skills will be key in the future, and if so, how are our schools doing in preparing students for this reality?

Image courtesy of Flickr user x-ray delta one

19 Responses to “The 10 key skills for the future of work”

  1. IMHO, this list is relevant for a computer (Hal of Oz), not for a biological organism rooted in an ecosystem (All of us). Where is the knowledge of plants and ecosystems? Know-how in food production and transformation? Where is thrift and efficiency? This list is biased with a dematerialised view of the world, oblivious to the resources, energy and materials (and material constraints) involved.

  2. Richard Saunders

    All of these are grounded on assumptions: 1) that an individual is highly literate, 2) that a stable and accessible infrastructure exists [either free or privileged access] to allows the sort of connectivity necessary for these sorts of functions, 3) that other basic human needs are consistently met. Seems to me that the insightful and highly adaptable characters who wrote up the list are a little more dependent [or naive] than they’d like to be on some deeper fundamental skills.

  3. This list is what my wife calls “content-free communication.”

    It essentially describes how anybody who works in an office today already works, including, I am certain, all the authors of this dumb-ass research paper.

  4. I’m totally with what you wrote here: “’s hard to keep up with what’s going on today.” Everything seems to be on an experimental stage these days and we’re looking at new jobs created each day that we wouldn’t have heard of in the last ten years. I love the list you come up with, though I have to say that we all need to work hard on all of these things, most especially – being open to change. I guess, schools need to raise the bar higher in helping students prepare for the future of work – to give them more practice than theory.

  5. Steve Borgman

    While there were a lot of critical comments here, I believe that we do need to look forward to the most important career success skills to be developed going forward. My question is whether we can choose the top 2 or 3 we think we excel in, and then work on the others one at a time? Using the Pareto Principle to make the most headway the fastest?

  6. If you think about these skills, they have never changed from the beginning of time. Do you think the person who invented the wheel had a Design mind-set? Think about that. I bet everyone reading this can come up with at least one example of something from a very long time ago and the person or persons involved had these skills. Someone below said “Do what you like and what you are good at” doing. I would at be passionate about too!

  7. I would burst out laughing if I read half of these as assertions in a resume. This is a pretentious and over-reaching list with language reminiscent of the worst / height of Political Correctitude.

  8. Pointless. These terms will never come across a resume or a job description, so they’re meaningless. I would love to see any hiring recruiter try to wrap their heads around these concepts.

  9. Roger Davies

    It’s an interesting list but largely could be applied to the last 50 years of the history of work as well as the next 50. Interestingly though they mostly favour “System 2” thinking.

  10. And plumbers…… They’re always hard to get – unless water in the future doesn’t need pipes some of the trades will still be desirable …. Perhaps today’s techie jobs will be the craft trades of the future?

  11. This is a bunch of gobbly-de-gook double speak by pointy-headed intellectuals with too much free time. Want to know what skills will be necessary in the future? The to think and reason, the ability to communicate, and the focus to do so without distraction for more than 5 minutes at a time. In other words, the same critical skills that were necessary 200 years ago.

  12. This is all good and well… until the end when the question asks what our schools are doing about it. One of the worst things some in our country are doing is being too reliant on an education system to teach life skills. Wisdom is best learned from the people in our lives and from personal experience.

  13. SIbanner101SI

    The list seems a bit hypocritical… I need a design mindset(make work pocesses for desired outcomes, sunds like rul making) but then also adaptie andnovel thinking(problem solving beyondthe rule)? So basically I needto know everthing anddo everything, I need to be empathetic and culturally senitive, but also logical and computational. Oh and I need to sense-make s I ca assume meaning beyond what people say an do(I read another article smewhere that justifed this because busness lingo is becoming less and less comprehenable and more generic and full of daily changing slang and hip terminology).

    It seems I must be a telepahic computer with highly empathetic emotional algorithms.

  14. Mitch Bartlett

    I remember when education was supposed to be the big area for jobs in the future. Everybody I knew wanted to become a teacher because they said all the older teachers were retiring. Now most of those people can’t find jobs, and that’s why people should just do what they like and what they’re good at and let the cards fall where they may.