Move Over Soft Skills — the Future Demands Super Skills

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We glimpse the future every day, and sometimes it’s weird. There are now refrigerators that will order groceries before you run out, doors in our homes that we can lock or unlock from cellphones halfway around the world, and semi-trucks that drive themselves. If one thing is for sure, it’s this: It’s only going to get weirder from here.

What does that all mean for the workforce? What skills should workers be developing now to make sure they are still relevant in 10 years? Cornerstone OnDemand and Institute for the Future attempt to answer those questions in “The Skills Economy: Future Skills,” a new joint report.

“Today, the world is in transition from what we might think of as a ‘First Curve’ of institutional production to a ‘Second Curve’ of socialstructed creation,” says Marina Gorbis, executive director at Institute for the Future.

By “socialstructuring,” Gorbis means the act of accomplishing things “by aggregating efforts of large networks of people using online platforms and tools for algorithmically coordinating activities.”

“We believe that we are in the early stages of this transformation [to socialstructuring], but the impacts will be profound over the next decade,” Gorbis says. “And we will feel these impacts nowhere more deeply than in the future of working and learning.”

Preparing for the Future With ‘Super Skills’

You’ve heard of soft skills, and you’ve heard of hard skills. Now, it’s time to get acquainted with super skills. Gorbis identifies the following five performance zones, or “super skills,” that today’s workers should cultivate to ensure their relevancy a decade or more from now.

1. Get Credit for Everything

“In the future, workers will need to build a personal brand for their own personal economy,” Gorbis says. “Notions about job history and experience are evolving beyond traditional credentials, such as the university you attended or the degree you earned. Workers will get credit for the skills they build as they perform all kinds of tasks, and they’ll carry those credits into new situations as they build their personal brands.”

Gorbis predicts that this shift to “microcredits” will create new ways of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring.

“Emerging technologies like the blockchain — a secure digital ledger system that will find its way into virtually every sector over the coming decade — will be able to track every aspect of a worker’s formal learning and work experience,” she says. “It’s not a leap to assume blockchain technology will propel the resume of the future.”

2. Upgrade Your Digital Fluency

While most of us are worried about robots replacing us at work, Gorbis believes this “automation anxiety” distracts from the reality of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. By and large, AI is not replacing people — it is working alongside them to accomplish more.

“Every new form of automation is also an opportunity to create new kinds of human value if workers have the skills to manage, assist, and even collaborate with machines to create new value or superior performance,” Gorbis says. “In healthcare, for instance, AI takes on tasks like digitally verifying insurance coverage information, thus reducing the need for manual calls and freeing up office managers to respond to patient needs.”

Gorbis also references the McCann ad agency, which has created an AI creative director. The relationships between humans and robots in the workplace are changing rapidly, and those people who have the skills to keep up will see the most success.

Stars3. Connect the Dots to Make Change

In a world where machines and humans work together to coordinate large and small tasks, workers will need “the ability to connect the dots between people, processes, and possibilities,” Gorbis says.

“In a world where innovation is the key to both personal and corporate growth, the ability to see everything as a medium for change is a core requirement for creating new value,” she says. “For example, in the food industry, where trust is a critical ingredient, connecting the dots along each stage of the food production process is a way to create new value while also changing how food is produced.”

As an example, Gorbis cites a platform called Provenance, which “gives physical products a digital traceability protocol that encodes an auditable record of any ingredient from start to finish, helping turn data into stories that support the food brand.”

“Workers will increasingly participate in these stories, becoming nodes in the auditable record,” Gorbis says. “Equally important, they will use the products and processes they tend to make change in the larger systems of which they are a part. Literally everything — from food to fashion to construction — will become a medium for change, and workers will be chosen from their skill in activating network nodes to make change that creates new value.”

4. Grow Your Multicultural Dexterity

We live in a world of complex identities, and each aspect of our multifaceted selves comes into play as we interact in the workplace.

“Building up multicultural dexterity will enable workers to quickly and appropriately shift mindsets and employ local rules of engagement,” Gorbis says. “In a skills economy, remote employees and dynamic teams all desire to grow and connect. Classic command and control structures do not work. In the working and learning future, we’re all in it together.”

As companies spread across the globe, employees will come into contact with new technologies, new processes, and new methods. Organizations will have to make careful decisions regarding when to enforce change and when to stick with existing protocols, Gorbis says.

5. Grow Caring at the Core

When the only constant is change, empathy is key.

“To begin understanding someone else’s worldview, workers of the future will need to develop an awareness of the biases, opinions, and experiences that shape their own,” Gorbis says. “As humans, we’ll need a higher caring IQ to better understand the complexities of daily life, build lasting relationships, gain more diverse perspectives, influence others, and care for ourselves and those around us.”

Developing Skills Through Technology

Technology is growing increasingly necessary in our work and personal lives, and there is no reason to believe this will stop anytime soon. It should be no surprise, then, that technology will be the vessel through which we gain and maintain both “super” and “regular” skills.

In the future, the key will be for organizations to provide solutions that employees can use in their own ways and at their own paces.

“Most people assume that the job of upskilling should be led by the employer, but the reality is that the employee has just as much power in dictating their own future,” says Jeff Miller, assistant vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness at Cornerstone OnDemand. “The controllability of learning has now shifted.”

standingLearning is more individualized in today’s workplace. Miller says we now exist at a moment of “extreme learning.” Training is available on demand and with the guidance of machines.

“The world of learning is changing faster now than at any other point in time,” Miller says. “The more employees stay up to date with training, the less likely their skills will become obsolete.”

That said, the creation of a learning culture starts not with individual employees, but with the people at the top. Organizational leaders have the power and influence to implement the necessary changes at the business-wide level.

“A culture of learning is one in which every person is dedicated to improving themselves and others,” Miller says. “It’s important to share, welcome, and celebrate knowledge.”

But training, Miller says, should never be done simply for the sake of doing training. It must have a concrete goal with measurable results.

One way that Cornerstone has fostered a culture of learning has been through “Development Day,” a day dedicated to employee learning that takes place every other month. Cornerstone employees volunteer to share their expertise with coworkers on subjects that range from PowerPoint skills and personal branding to meditation and mixology.

“This communal learning culture has been tied to employees forging stronger relationships, increasing employee engagement, and opening new doors for career movement,” Miller says.

By Jason McDowell