What future skills will be in demand, and how do we hone existing skills for the future of work? Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to predict exactly how the job market might play out, but we do have research and facts to help us arrive at reasonably firm conclusions.

The findings of a 2017 Nesta report revealed that a tenth of the future workforce are in occupations ‘that are likely to grow’, while a fifth are in ‘occupations that will likely shrink’. We bring these statistics up in particular because they are pre-pandemic, when the concept of digital transformation was as prominent as it is now.

In this article, we’ll look at what foundational future skills may be required by employers, how we could help employees hone the skills they already have, and what we can do as leaders to improve organisation preparedness to attract young talent.

The role of digital transformation

Digital transformation was ‘the jolt businesses need’ years before the pandemic, but progress accelerated because of it. Digital adoption has become a necessity rather than a luxury, lest businesses get left behind. The skills required to take part in digital transformation projects have risen in status. Some of these may be described as ‘technical’, such as digital infrastructure knowledge, security, automation, cloud computing, and so on. Yet, soft skills play their part, such as the five Cs outlined by TechRadar:

  • Curiosity
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration.

While we may fixate on future skills as being for the digitally savvy, it may take a mix of traditional and new skills to navigate towards a successful digital transformation outcome.

However, not every vision of the future paints a picture of digital proficiency. Our future skills may have to adapt to many scenarios, inside and outside corporate life. If we are talking about business and economic future skills, technology talent may well take centre stage. The UK’s Global Talent visa enables people to work in the UK in areas such as financial technology (fintech), gaming, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI). Job offers are not required, but background skills should ideally be technical (development, engineering, data) or business (commercial, investment or digital product expertise).

The outlook appears to favour those with technical skills or technical knowledge – or at least an understanding of what digital means and how best to apply or adopt it within a business context.

With this in mind, let’s look broadly at the skills McKinsey believes will help ‘citizens thrive in the future of work’.

Digital proficiency is vital

McKinsey states that there are clusters of skill groups within four primary categories: cognitive, interpersonal, digital and self-leadership. Within each category are subsets of soft skills and hard skills. Examples of soft skills might be storytelling, active listening, coaching and empowering. Hard skills might be data literacy, an understanding of digital ethics, and work-plan development.

The broad outcome of the McKinsey study was clear: digital proficiency is vital. The recommendation was that education, adult training systems and affordability of lifelong education should be improved, and emphasised the UK government’s role in influencing this.

We don’t disagree, but there are things you can do to enhance how your organisation tackles each of these variables, to ensure future skills are a part of your digital transformation shift.

Nurture a culture of learning

We believe education begins at work. To ensure we set up our workforce for success, consider setting up training and development opportunities, or reinforce the value of the programme you already have. We believe leaders should ‘always be coaching’ – a mantra that applies to existing employees as it does to new recruits.

Rapid change is disorienting, but it’s part and parcel of organisational transformation. To remain competitive and vital as a business, you have to change. This means leaders have an obligation to manage the organisation and its people through the process. Having a culture of education already in place will go a long way towards helping leaders navigate the ups and downs of change, including dispelling assumptions, improving communications, and managing people’s fears and resistance. (Deloitte cites resistance to change as being the third-biggest challenge to scaling automation in organisations.)

A culture of learning may be emphasised by focusing on upskilling employees through your learning and development programmes, highlighting future skills such as digital knowledge, systems processes, problem-solving and data literacy. As ever, continuously monitor and evaluate progress, so that your culture of learning is strong and remains strong.

Lay the groundwork for being an attractive employer

If you are actively pursuing the adoption of cloud computing within your business, you’re on the right track. Being a cloud-native organisation that hires cloud-native people puts you in a great position to be competitive and attract talent. According to the UK’s Cloud Industry Forum, cloud adoption rate in the UK is 88%, so it puts you in good company too. Yet, cloud computing is only one facet of being a digital business. As an employer, look for automation skills, and be an automated company that can attract the right candidates.

Workplace automation has become a scary concept for many people. For instance, the ONS says that 1.5 million jobs in England ‘are at high risk of some of their duties and tasks being automated in the future’. This sort of prediction scares people! It also attracts people. The World Economic Forum estimates that, by 2025, ‘85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms’.

There are opportunities to develop as a business and help people’s careers move in the right direction. As outlined above, this is achieved by laying the foundations of the necessity to adapt to thrive, of learning as a business and managing change.

Being a nimble organisation could help you find a balance between modernising, automating and digitally transforming your workforce through education, and attracting digital natives. The future skills your workforce needs are a mix of soft and hard skills, digital knowledge, and an ability to recognise and embrace change. All they need to help them thrive is good leadership.