What workplace skills are important today?

“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organisation’s learning culture.”

The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organisation’s learning culture.” says Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte. And that’s lucky, because there’s a problem: the education system isn’t keeping up with demand.

According to LinkedIn Research, only half of the top ten skills of 2016 remained on that list in 2018.   It’s perhaps not that surprising: technologies like mobile commerce, Big Data and AI are challenging every industry’s route to market, whether that’s B-to-B or B-to-C.  So we know we have to keep learning; the challenge is to work out what we should focus on to deliver a sustainable business impact (and, indeed, a sustainable career). We need to examine the LinkedIn research for that.

The hard-skills top twenty in 2018 can be broken down into five categories: (The full list can be found on LinkedIn)

  • Cloud and associated technical skills
  • Data, data science, analytics and data presentation
  • Software development and design, including UI and Mobile
  • SEO/SEM Marketing Technologies, including inbound marketing
  • Cyber Security – in with a bullet this year!

Some skills, according to LinkedIn, are dropping down the charts, for example ERP talent, computer graphics and animation abilities.

Yet ERP and animation are hardly archery or hot-metal typesetting! They are comparatively new skills themselves. The fact is, hard skills are now going to ebb and flow constantly. We should assume that hard skills knowledge is something all of us are going to have to pick up as we go, several times in our careers.

Not surprisingly then, further research from LinkedIn shows that 57% of business leaders believe that soft-skills are still more important than hard-skills for business leaders.

The soft-skills of Leadership, Communication, Collaboration and Time Management remain at the top of the chart. Diversity and social responsibility skills have entered the chart from nowhere, again not surprising given the press and news coverage of organisations falling foul of acceptable standards.   Greg Williams, Editor of Wired UK, in his July Editorial highlights, “responsibility, societal impact and consideration for others”, as the factors that will set organisations apart in the next couple of years.

Not far behind, and rising fast, are two new soft-skills that make an entry for the first time this year.

Cognisco has identified that the most flexible, and therefore most employable, people in any organisation show intellectual curiosity and learnability.  These individuals identify new issues fast, and have the learning skills to develop their understanding of those emerging issues to meet the business challenges that they present.  Such employees are able to become familiar with new technologies quickly and can adapt to ongoing digital transformation within the business.  Or, for basic definitions:

Intellectual curiosity leads to the acquisition of general knowledge. It can be a curiosity about almost anything in business, the underlying mechanisms of systems and or processes,  financial and mathematical relationships, languages, social norms, and history.  Employees with such curiosity will often examine an existing problem in a business by looking at it from a number of angles, highlighting new and innovative solutions.

Wikipedia says that “In a labour market increasingly dictated by skills, individuals need to develop and demonstrate learnability — the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set — in order to stay relevant and succeed.”

Perhaps, then,  there is a new theme in Learning and Development in the latter part of this decade: look for and retain employees that show intellectual curiosity and learnability.

It’s going to become ever more important. We saw above that the list of desirable hard skills is changing rapidly. With things changing so fast, talent managers are going to find it increasingly hard to hire the staff they need and to retain those they already employ.  The research shows that a CV/Resume of employee skills in 2015 may not be the most relevant today, so for both applicants and HR professionals, showing on a CV/Resume the ability to acquire and master new skills over the last few years would seem to be a good indicator of quality.

Competence in intellectual curiosity and learnability will enable people to acquire and master hard-skills more quickly.   These skills, perhaps above all other soft-skills, will be at a premium in the future.  Organisations that have set themselves up to meet the challenges of 2015 can’t flip their workforces to meet to new requirements identified in 2018 to retain the same business impact.  They need to make the most of what they have and to recruit the best people to meet the challenges they will face at the end of the decade.  Those people, while having the hard skills necessary for the job, will also need to show intellectual curiosity and learnability.

One challenge remains: how best to find and test these skills in the workforce and potential candidates. The good news is that at least we now know what we are looking for.  From there, it’s entirely possible to create scenarios, tests and questions that will identify those that are best able to meet these coming business challenges. Cognisco-style tools can be used to assess whether an employee has such skills and how best to develop them for the coming challenges toward the end of the decade and beyond.

Owen Ashby

Director Strategic Alliances and Engagement – Cognisco Ltd.

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