A bright sign saying Think Outside The Box sitting on a black chair

In 2016 the World Economic Forum listed 10 skills that we should all have by 2020 to thrive in the workplace in their report The Future of Jobs. They claimed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics.

These developments will transform the way we live, and the way we work. Some jobs will disappear, others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. What is certain is that the future workforce will need to align its skillset to keep pace.

The report asked chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers what the current shifts mean, specifically for employment, skills and recruitment across industries and geographies.

It doesn’t look as though we are there yet in terms of transformations - we are not all out and about in driverless cars or obtaining our home help from robots, but we are certainly further along than we were five years ago.

And so there’s still time to catch up on these skills! The next five years might just be the time the Fourth Industrial Revolution affects the workplace once and for all so it’s best to get ahead while you can. 

Here are the skills they listed as being the most important to excel in the workplace:

10. Cognitive Flexibility

How quickly can you switch between different ways of thinking, for example analytically, critically, or creatively? If you currently pigeonhole yourself into a style, for example, creative or analytical, what can you do to learn something new about how the other half live? This could be by trying out someone creative, such as taking music lessons, or if you are creative taking time to understand how the marketing team in your company decide where to put their money based on their monthly figures. 

9. Negotiation

One thing that robots and automation can’t do is social interaction, especially negotiation, so even those in purely technical careers will need to be able to negotiate more easily with colleagues, managers, clients and teams. If you feel that negotiation is a weak point for you could ask whether your company would be willing to sponsor you to do a course to get you up to scratch. 

8. Service Orientation

Service orientation means that you actively look for ways to help people, whether it’s people you are working with directly, or anticipating the needs of consumers in the future. 

For example, consumers are more aware of issues such as carbon footprints, food safety, labour standards and privacy, and companies need to make sure that they are providing a service or developing a product that fits in with these more recent consumer values. 

7. Judgement and Decision-Making

With more and more data available to companies in every part of the organisation, more employees are needed who can sift through the numbers, find actionable insights, and use big data to inform business strategy and decisions.

6. Emotional Intelligence

People high in emotional intelligence are able to understand the mood of others and adjust their behaviour accordingly. They might also understand what makes a person tick, so that they can interact with them in a way that moves the project forward and allows the person and team to feel comfortable and be able to offer their advice and expertise.

5. Coordinating with Others

As robots and automation can’t develop social skills, they dominate the list. A key skill is understanding other’s capabilities and expertise so that teams can work together most efficiently and adapt flexibly to changing circumstances. Coordinating with others involves strong communication skills, an awareness of other people’s strengths and weaknesses, and being able to work with a range of different personalities.

4. People Management

Managers and team leaders need to know how to motivate their teams, maximise their productivity and respond to their needs. As a member of a team, employees want to be able to work towards something and feel as though they have a part to play, and people with great people management skills are able to do this. 

3. Creativity

Creativity is a key skill for the future, and remember that being creative is not just for people who can draw or play a musical instrument. If you are able to connect the dots with seemingly disparate information, and throw all the ideas together to present something new, then you are that creative person.

However it’s quite difficult to become a creative person - there’s no textbook to learn how to do it - and the creative process is its inherent ‘non-process’ nature. There is simply no one way to creatively problem-solve something. In saying that, there are ways to unleash the creative within you by exercising curiosity and self-expression on a regular basis.

Some other things you can do include giving yourself time to let your thoughts wander (this is why some of our best ideas come to us in the shower!), making it a habit to sit down and create a body of work when you’re sleepy (because when your brain’s unfocused, it’s less inhibited), and using limitations as a starting point for creativity!

2. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves being able to use logic and reasoning to interrogate an issue or problem, consider various solutions to the problem, and weigh up the pros and cons of each approach. Next time you have a problem that you want to solve, whether it’s in the workplace or at home, understand the steps you’ve taken to get to your result. Why did you choose that thing?

1. Complex Problem-Solving

Number one on the World Economic Forum’s list was Complex Problem-Solving, defined by the report as the capacity ‘to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.’

Luckily, it does not mean that we have to solve the world’s problems all by ourself, whether that’s climate change, inequality or the housing crisis, but it does mean that you should be able to step back from your expertise and understand the bigger picture. 

There are four basic steps to solving a problem:

  1. Defining the problem.
  2. Generating alternatives.
  3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives.
  4. Implementing solutions.

And it’s likely that you do this on a day-to-day basis. Next time you come across a problem in your work or home life, take a little longer to think through these steps and explain why you chose the end solution.