5 Critical Skills for the Future of Work

Cultivating Human Skills in an Automated World

By Anita Jivani, Director, Strong-Bridge Envision Northeast Region

For decades, business futurists and science fiction writers alike have warned of machines replacing humans. As we live out the technological revolution in real time, it has become clear the human workforce will not be replaced but rather will need to evolve to complement the introduction of new technologies.

Earlier this week, global leaders descended on New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, providing an opportunity for all of us to reflect on a core topic within the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals: Goal #8, Decent Work and Economic Growth. This goal focuses on ensuring “full and productive employment,” specifically, “[achieving] higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation.”

This goal is set with the understanding that “470 million jobs are needed globally…between 2016 and 2030.”  But the jobs of tomorrow look very different from the jobs of today; in fact, more than 65% of Generation Z’s jobs do not currently exist in the marketplace and much of the activities done at work today – potentially more than 45% – are at risk of automation with technologies that already exist. The rapid evolution of technology will push people to respond faster and work more efficiently to stay relevant in the marketplace of the future. People not only need to be constantly upgrading their skills to stay relevant but also need to make sure that this upskilling is fast-paced and aligned with technological shifts. Selecting the right skills to partner effectively with technology will be critical for people to keep up with systemic changes — the people who will stand out are those who recreate themselves constantly based on the shifting needs of this new world.

What will be the skills of the future? Skills that are hard to replicate with automation and allow humans to partner effectively with new technologies to produce work will be in high demand. Below are the top 5 job skills for the Future of Work that stand out to us from our research and experience working with clients across industries.


Top 5 Skills to Thrive in the Future of Work

Skill #1 – Managing Ambiguity

New technology and Artificial Intelligence are centered on understanding and responding to behavioral patterns revealed through big data. Humans will be needed where technology faces limitations, like determining exceptions or creating solutions to uniquely complex problems. As technologies replace predictable work, humans will need to focus on the more complex, nuanced problems their organizations face.

Skill #2 – Connecting the Dots

While new technologies enable understanding of trends within data sets, humans will be uniquely qualified to understand how large patterns connect across departments and industries. Making these connections and determining how patterns in one industry impact people in another industry, for example, will be a valuable and difficult-to-replicate skill. Furthermore, identifying where complementary partnerships exist or where areas of collaboration are left unrealized will set humans apart. In short, humans will be the ones who translate and realize preliminary learnings produced by machines.

Skill #3 – Navigating the People Factor

Shifts in demographics, mindsets, and technologies will result in high amounts of change in short periods of time, which predictably creates apprehension among most people. With new innovations there will come a need to adopt them quickly across organizations; this adoption of large-scale changes will be a distinctly human skill requiring empathy and curated focus on change management to ensure transformations are not short-lived.

Skill #4 – Technology-Smart

All individuals, regardless of industry, function, and role will require foundational technical skills that are moving from a “nice to have” to a “must have.” Older generations have already faced this type of learning challenge when organizations made (and many still making) the transition from paper to digital. The next wave will move beyond being able to use a smart phone and collaboration tools like Slack, and more into hard skills that everyone should at least have a basic understanding of; coding, programming languages, and the associated technical vocabulary are just a few examples.

Skill #5 – Ability to Discern Substance from Noise

In an information-heavy era, the focus will shift away from the person who can consume the most information to the person who can discern the most and turn it into value. Conducting quick scans of the environment to absorb high amounts of information from print, digital, and social media sources will be a critical skill not taught formally in academics or informally in mentoring relationships. Further, turning this input into nuggets of value, areas of collaboration, and white space for innovation will distinguish great talent from mediocre talent.

The question that follows then is: how and where do I cultivate these skills in a tactical way for myself, my organization, and my teams? Cultivating skills for the future is rarely done in a silo and requires time and investment at various layers of an organization and even in a society. Our next article on this topic explores how individuals, leaders, and organizations can each take action in preparing today’s workforce for the future.

For a deeper dive into this topic, check out our infographic on cultivating human skills in an automated world.


Interested in the Future of Work?

Join our Future of Work Executive Roundtable series in New York. Learn more and register here.


Anita Jivani is a Director at SBE in New York City focused on Future of Work, Next-Gen Change Management, and Organizational Design & Innovation. Her clients span the private, non-profit, and public sectors and have included organizations such as Walmart, World Bank, and the U.S. Olympics Committee. Her advisory footprint spans geographies such as Kenya, Brazil, India, China, Costa Rica, Philippines, Argentina, Canada, and Mexico.

Anita has spoken about the Future of Work at various conferences and events including TEDx, Deloitte ID, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the U.K. Science and Innovation Network. Anita has an MBA from the Yale School of Management, BS with honors from Vanderbilt University, and is a Fulbright Scholar.

Email Anita here and follow her on LinkedIn.