Hiring for the Future: 7 Key Competencies Employees Need for the New World of Work

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Digitalization, artificial intelligence, robotics, and other new technologies were already major disruptors in the workplace before 2020. Research indicates the pandemic has only accelerated digital transformation further. This provides us with both new opportunities and new challenges.

The advances in automation, remote work, and eCommerce during the pandemic have occurred alongside an increasing emphasis on building inclusive and supportive workplaces — which, by necessity, require a certain set of soft skills among employees.

As employers and recruiters strategize to build future-ready workforces, they’ll have to look for candidates who can both excel amid digital transformation and thrive in the inclusive work cultures of tomorrow. But what skill set, exactly, does a candidate need to meet those criteria?

At PSI, we analyzed the predictions of a range of publications and white papers, observed our clients across the globe, and looked at the competencies that were critical over the past 10 years. We then used this information to identify seven new competencies that we believe could rise to prominence over the next decade as the skills that all employees, across all sectors and levels, need to succeed.

1. Critical Thinking

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report found that critical thinking was among the most in-demand skills for organizations. Faced with increasingly complex tasks, workers — often operating remotely and isolated from their colleagues — need to be able to analyze information from a variety of sources, quickly identify the most important aspects, and determine the best way forward for the task at hand.

2. Learning Agility

The COVID-era exposed many vulnerabilities that organizations had previously overlooked or didn’t even know existed, forcing employees and managers at all levels to adapt rapidly when strategies that worked in the past proved ineffective.

Digitalization will continue to drive disruptions of a similar magnitude, requiring leaders and employees to adopt agile mindsets and behaviors. Future-ready workers must be able to evaluate their experiences objectively and apply the lessons they learn to new and evolving situations.

3. Digital Dexterity

Interest in and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and cloud technologies are only expected to rise, driving fundamental changes in many industries and roles. The ability to grasp and leverage new applications rapidly is a must for any company looking to drive innovation and optimize efficiencies. We’ve already seen this play out: The swift implementation of workforce management technology enabled organizations large and small to adjust to remote and hybrid work models with minimal interruption to operations.

4. Relationship-Building

Advances in task-automation technology enable employees to focus more on those areas where human workers outshine the machines. Emotional intelligence and social skills will be key to successful collaboration and team management as remote and hybrid work models become mainstays. Employees who are equipped with the proactive communication and trust-building skills necessary to cultivate connections, in both virtual and face-to-face contexts, are a must.

5. Embracing Diversity

Diverse organizations tend to achieve better business performance. Organizational leaders, managers, and individual contributors all play essential roles in establishing and maintaining a business framework that supports diverse perspectives, ideas, and solutions. Moving forward, every employee will have a responsibility to ensure people are treated fairly, and they must be prepared to advocate and act when this isn’t happening.

6. Resilience

The pandemic has brought employee well-being and mental health into the spotlight,  underlining the importance of personal resilience in the workplace. People must be ready to cope with inevitable setbacks and change; they must be capable of setting boundaries that help them bounce back effectively. At the same time, organizations need to play their part by ensuring the company culture and leadership are set up to support employee well-being.

7. Change Orientation

The rise of digitalization and automation affects not only job requirements but also organizational structures and labor market needs. Workers who can adopt a positive mindset toward these changes in their tasks, skill requirements, and organization structures are more likely to succeed. These changes will be challenging but will also present opportunities for individuals to develop new skills and take on different responsibilities.

Predicting the future is always difficult, and the dramatic outcomes of the last year have certainly shown us that. None of us can be exactly sure what the future will bring. However, the world of work will continue to be fluid, disruptive, and fast-paced. These seven key competencies will arm individuals with the key skills they need to respond positively to rapid change, complexity, digitalization, and hybrid work, among other trends.

Individuals who demonstrate these seven competencies alongside other essential role competencies are best positioned for successful performance across a wide range of jobs as we emerge from the pandemic. Talent teams should keep these competencies at the forefront of their minds as they update their recruiting and professional development processes for a future-ready workforce.

Dan Hughes is director of R&D at PSI.

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By Dan Hughes