Future-proof yourself: five key skill sets to develop (1)

Rebecca Valentine writes:

In my last blog post I gave a brief history of the future of work and the research I’ve been doing.  I highlighted that although there has been some fierce debate about what the future of work will look like, there is surprising agreement about the skills that will be important.  

In the current circumstances I think these skills take on even more importance and in this post I’m going to talk about those skills in more detail and why they’re important, both now and for the future.  

So what are the important skills? 

1. Thinking skills     

The first group of skills are what I’ve called “Thinking skills” but you might also see them called higher order cognitive or high order thinking skills.  These include problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, systems thinking and judgement or decision makingThese are the skills that help you analyse and evaluate knowledge and create new knowledge.  In contrast to lower order skills that focus on memorising, the higher order skills focus on being able to understand and apply knowledge.  Let’s look at them in more detail. 

Critical thinking: 

Critical thinking is about being an active learnerbeing able to assess information and then make judgements or decisions based on that evidence.  In an age of social media and fake newscritical thinking skills are essential in being able to identify and assess reliable sources of information.   

Problem solving: 

Problem solving means being able to come up with solutions to complex issues and problems and it’s often done as part of a team.  It’s about being able to understand problems, identify possible solutions and make decisions about which solution to try.  You also need to be comfortable with the unknown as you don’t know if a solution will work until you try it.  

We only need to look at what’s happening in the outside world now to see how important this skill is.  Recently we’ve all had to adapt to working and studying at homedeal with all sorts of unexpected problems and come up with inventive solutions.   

Decision making: 

Decision making, sometimes called judgement, is about choosing between different options and being able to draw on facts and information to make decisions.  It’s often needed in response to needing to find solutions to difficult problems.  Again we only need to look at current circumstances to see how important this skill is;  we’ve all had to adapt to different ways of working and studying and some of us have had to make tough decisions about things like living away from family and deciding what tasks to focus on and tackle first.   


Creativity is all about coming up with ideas and then being able to put those ideas into action.  Being imaginative is about coming up with the ideas and then this becomes creativity if you can put those ideas into action.  We’ve all been showing creativity recently in coming up with ways to keep in contact with friends, family and colleagues during the pandemic, for example.   

Systems thinking: 

Finally, in the thinking skills we have systems thinking which is important for understanding complex systems and managing risks.  The global climate crisis is a really good example here as the Earth’s climate is a complex system with a huge range of factors influencing it and all of those factors are interacting with each other too, creating more complexity.  Systems thinking is important in being able to understand all these factors, to then identify what the problems are and to find the right solutions.  

2. Uniquely human skills         

Lots of the reports on the future of work have highlighted that humans and machines don’t approach tasks in the same way and we need to identify what makes us human and focus on developing those skills.  So next we have what are called the uniquely human skills which include teamwork and collaboration, communication and interpersonal skillsemotional intelligence and empathy. Again, let’s look at these in more detail and see why they’re important. 

Teamwork and collaboration: 

A team is a group who are united by a common purpose, and teams are often used for solving complex problems and working on difficult tasks.  The quick move that many of us have made to remote team working using technology has changed the nature of teamwork but ultimately, it’s still about working with others to achieve a common goal. 

Related to the skill of teamwork is collaboration, which is about working with someone to produce something.  Collaboration could be between people, teams or organisations and is often used to talk about people or groups who wouldn’t normally work together. 

Teamwork and collaboration will be crucial for us in solving many of the world’s complex problems, not least the Covid-19 pandemic but also things like the global climate crisis and how to deal with ageing populations. 

Communication and interpersonal skills: 

Communication is exchanging and transferring information, and this can be done in different ways including verbal (such as speaking and presenting), non-verbal (body language and facial expressions) and written communication (such as emails, reports and social media posts).  As it involves a sender and a receiver of the information or message it can often lead to misunderstandings!  Clear communication is crucial at a time like now when governments are giving daily briefings to keep the public safe and up to date with what’s going on.  

Related to and sometimes confused with communication are interpersonal skills.  These are the skills that we use to communicate and interact with people and they are needed to work well with others and to work in teams.  It includes things like being open to giving and receiving feedback, managing relationships with others, having an awareness of body language, listening to others, managing any conflicts or difficulties that arise and having respect for others. 

Emotional intelligence: 

Emotional intelligence is all about understanding yourself and othershaving a good awareness of yourself, including being aware of and in control of your emotions and how you interact with others.  It’s also about having the ability to understand other people and how to work with them and includes empathy: being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  This is all important if you’re going to get on with and work well with others and so is related to things like teamwork and communication.  It also includes other personal qualities such as motivation, confidence, adaptability and being trustworthy and reliable.  Again we only need to look at the current circumstances to see why this is important at a time when many people are feeling anxious and uncertain – being supportive and understanding of others is key.  

3. Digital skills       

In this context I’m talking about the skills that are needed to be effective at working remotely and onlinerather than more technical skills such as coding and engineering.  Some specialist roles working in technology will need those technical skills but here I want to focus on a more general set of digital skills that are needed for most jobs.  The quick move that many of us have made to working and studying at home have brought these skills under the spotlight now. 

Working in teams online, taking part in meetings and working remotely is different from face-to-face working in a traditional office but some of the same skills are still required in order to collaborate with others and to manage your work.  Teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills are important so you can listen to and engage with others and to contribute well to online meetings and to support others.   

As well as this, working online means that you need to be able to manage your digital footprint and online presence. Being able to use digital platforms like LinkedIn is important along with the skills to network and build relationships with others online. 

To be continued… 

For the background to this read Rebecca’s post The Future of Work – Already Here? 

(Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay)


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