Future-proof yourself: five key skill sets to develop (2)

Following her previous post which discussed thinking skills, uniquely human skills and digital skills, Rebecca Valentine continues her exploration of skills which will become increasingly relevant in the future world of work.

4. Self-management     

Self-management is about taking responsibility for yourself, your work and your wellbeing, something that we’re all having to do at the moment.  Self-management helps you to set and achieve goals and work towards them independently – so things like organisation, planning and time management are an important part.  It’s a skill you learn and develop over time – by taking advantage of opportunities that come along where you can take responsibility and stretch/develop yourself.  Being open minded, willing to take some risks in taking up opportunities and learning from failure is important.  Within self-management, both career management and lifelong learning skills are important so let’s look at these in more detail. 

Career management: 

It’s likely that most of us will have many different jobs over the course of our working lives – perhaps in different sectors, locations or with different organisations and possibly working for ourselves.  We’re also likely to be both living and working longer and it’s important to have the right skills to be able to manage the transitions between all these roles and balance this with our lives outside of work. 

Career management is all about being able to set goals, make plans and to adapt them in the light of changing circumstances.  It involves having a good understanding of yourself – your needs, values, skills and strengths and of the opportunities that are available to you.  It also involves then being able to choose between different options and make and carry out plans to achieve your goals.  

Lifelong learning: 

Alongside career management, we’ll also need to be lifelong learners – working in different jobs will mean we need to keep learning and developing ourselves.  Lifelong learning generally means education beyond school and university, for personal and professional development.  It can be carried out in lots of places and in lots of ways including formal training courses or self-directed learning and it can be done online, face to face or a mix of the two (blended learning).   

It’s also useful to note the difference between upskilling and reskilling when we talk about lifelong learning.  Upskilling is about deepening your existing knowledge and skills, whereas reskilling is about extending your skills into a new area.  I don’t know about you but since I started working from home I have been both upskilling and reskilling in order to adjust to the new normal! 

5. Laying the important foundations         

As well as the skills I’ve talked about above, many reports about the future of work talk about a range of mindsets or attitudes that are also important and I think these build a solid foundation for supporting you to develop the right set of skills and to approach the future with an open mind.  These include things like resiliencemotivation, self-confidence or self-belief and self-efficacy, flexibility and adaptability and having an enterprising outlook or approach.  Again, let’s look at these in a bit more detail. 


Resilience is all about coping with adversity, and so it’s something that’s proving to be important for us all at the moment.   Someone with resilience can bounce back from setbacks and adapt well to changes in circumstances.  It’s also about being able to set realistic plans (and back-up plans) and communicate well with others and so it links with lots of the skills I’ve talked about including communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and self-management to name a few.   


Motivation is about having the drive to achieve a goal and at its heart it means taking action to achieve something that’s important to you, and so it’s driven by our needs, values and goalsMotivation is important in supporting you to achieve and get things done and for you to work well with others.  Working and studying from home needs motivation so it’s easy to see why this is so important at the moment. 

Confidence (including self-belief and self-efficacy): 

Self-confidence or self-belief and self-efficacy are related but separate concepts and they overlap with lots of the skills we’ve looked at already.  Self-confidence or self-belief is about trusting your judgement and abilities and valuing yourself. Your level of self-confidence will affect how others see you – self-confident people inspire confidence in others. 

Self-efficacy is related to self-confidence but it’s slightly different.  It’s a concept that was developed by the sociologist Albert Bandura and is about the confidence you have that you will complete a task or achieve a goal.  It’s widely understood that self-efficacy can affect whether you will achieve a given task and your level of self-efficacy can affect how much effort you put into things.   

Flexibility and adaptability: 

Flexibility is used commonly in sport as a term to describe the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range, but more recently it’s become used as a term in the workplace, describing an attitude to work.  It’s understood to mean the ability and willingness to respond to changing circumstances and to deal with unexpected things calmly, such as problems or unexpected tasks that come along.  

Similar to flexibility is adaptability which is the ability to change your plans or actions as a result of changing circumstancesIt means being aware of what’s going on in your surroundings and outside world and then being able to adjust plans and actions accordingly.  Both of these attitudes are incredibly important at the moment while we’ve all been dealing with the unexpected problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and many of us have had to adjust to new ways of working and studying.  These will be important skills for the future too with many of us living and working longer.   

Enterprising Outlook: 

Being enterprising and demonstrating enterprising behaviours is useful for all employment contexts.  This includes self-employment but it is useful in other contexts too and is especially needed for adapting to changing circumstances.  It’s all about  you showing a confident and can-do attitude to work, questioning things, using initiative, being flexible, showing initiative and being open to taking risks – making the most of opportunities that come along and not being afraid of failure. 

So it’s most definitely not limited to self-employment or creating new business ventures (although it can be these things) but is a useful set of behaviours and skills for all of us, especially in navigating uncertain times. 

And what about the future then?     

By now it should be pretty clear why some of these skills and attitudes are proving to be important for us at the moment, in navigating this uncertain time, dealing with adversity, solving the unexpected problems that are cropping up and adapting to working and studying remotely.  But what about the future?  Well, in my first post (The Future of Work – Already Here?) I talked about the predictions that many organisations have made about the future of work meaning more remote working and all of those skills will still be important if indeed this is how things turn out.   As well as that there’s the possibility of further advances in technology which may mean some jobs change or are removed from the labour market completely and taken over by a machine.  Those skills in adaptability, flexibility, career management and of course the uniquely human skills are going to be important for us in adapting to changes in the labour market brought about by technology. 

We’ll also face some tremendous challenges as a human race in the future; the global climate crisis, resource scarcity, ageing populationsurbanisation and advances in technology, not to mention the threat of future pandemics.  All of these will require the skills that I’ve talked about; problem solving, decision making, systems and critical thinking and to be successful we’ll need to work together in multidisciplinary teams so those skills of teamwork, collaboration and communication will be all important. 

So what now? 

Personally I’m excited about the future.  Although it’s an anxious time at the moment, one thing that I’ve taken great comfort from is that when we face difficult challenges, we have an amazing ability to come together to solve some of those challenges.  We only need to look at our own University to see some of this in action as we’re supporting the fight against Covid-19.  The future of work is uncertain of course as we can’t predict it but as I’ve already said, we can do things to make sure we’re prepared and make sure we have the right set of skills to take advantage of exciting opportunities when they come along.   

So what can you do to prepare?  One way to start would be to do a self-audit of your skills based on what I’ve talked about in this post.  Which ones are current strengths for you now and which ones do you need to develop?  For the development areas how can you do this?  What things can you do, both at university and beyond to develop them?  MyDevelopmentHub is a good starting point for finding out about development opportunities but there are other sources out there too including LinkedIn Learning (free for University of Edinburgh students), so do take some time to explore and see where you can develop. 

The future is ours to shape.  


Find out more about how you can get ready for your future, and how we can support you, in our FAQs and updates



(Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay)


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