Build your skills for the new world of work

Skills attributes (large) 1

The fourth industrial revolution has arrived, disrupting the working world as we know it. But what will this mean for you?

The professional landscape is changing – fast

The disruptive impact of smart devices, advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence on swathes of white collar roles is increasingly real. The Governor of the Bank of England recently predicted that nearly half of all roles could be automated in coming decades. Accountants, fund managers, investment advisors, lawyers, medics and many more are among those whose roles will be affected. Citibank estimates that a quarter of Wall Street jobs will be computerised by 2020.

However, as with past industrial revolutions, the Fourth will also create opportunities. There are positive trends working in favour of skilled professionals, such as shrinking working age populations in economies like the UK. This means continuing skills shortages that, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, resulted in 22% of UK jobs going unfulfilled in 2015.

This is a world where macro-economic trends and technology advances are disrupting businesses, industries, professions and jobs at an unprecedented scale and rate. Future career success will depend on our ability to adapt, honing our high-value ‘human’ skills that simply can’t be replicated by machines.

“The First Industrial Revolution used steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

– Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum

Skills for the new world of work

There is a growing body of commentary on future skills. Inevitably, there are differences of opinion. But there is also significant consensus.

Everyone now needs to be digitally savvy – even in lower skilled roles in warehouses or supermarkets. So this is a given. But in a world increasingly populated by digital natives who have the requisite technological skills, how do you differentiate yourself from other professionals – particularly younger ones?

According to research by the World Economic Forum among 350 of the world’s leading organisations, there will be a continuing demand for high-value skills like critical thinking and complex problem solving. This will go along with a growing need for distinctly human skills such as creativity and emotional intelligence as we look to 2020 and beyond.

Developing the five most in-demand professional skills

Based on our analysis, there are five key skills sets that will be at a premium, according to experts. We have grouped together a number of closely related skills for the sake of clarity and simplicity:

1. Complex problem-solving

Also Critical thinking, Judgement & Decision-making

These “brain” skills require more than just raw intelligence (something that AI will increasingly provide). In a world of big data, constant flux and the need for fast and yet sound judgements, those with the ability to understand issues, identify what is relevant and interpret information to solve problems and make key decisions will be in high demand.

2. Creativity

Also Innovation & Entrepreneurialism

This is something even the smartest computers will struggle to replicate. Those who can spot – or create – an opportunity, think outside the box, come up with game-changing ideas, do things differently, take calculated risks and have that entrepreneurial drive and self-belief to innovate, will shine through in the fourth industrial age.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks”

- Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

3. Emotional intelligence

Also People Management & Empathy

Once again, these skills are hard to replicate with robots. In a fluid job market and a world where change is happening at an ever-faster pace, being able to understand yourself and recognise your own strengths and weaknesses will be a vital part of self-development. If you also have the ability to do the same with others – being able to reach out, inspire, motivate and develop those around you – you will be in demand as a leader and manager. Management skills are in high demand, with the Chartered Management Institute predicting that the UK alone will need 2 million more managers by 2024.

4. Cognitive flexibility

Also Agility

Assumptions and attitudes you’ve held as true until now may not apply in the near future. A desire, willingness and ability to learn new skills and adapt to new ways of working, as well as being curious and open to new opportunities, is increasingly key to your success in a fast-changing and unpredictable world.

5. Collaboration

Also Coordination with others & Social intelligence

In a more connected world, you’ll need to find effective ways to harness the power of the group. This means the ability to understand social groups and different cultures, building relationships, sensing and stimulating reactions and desired interactions. This applies whether it’s the crowd-sourcing of ideas or word of mouth marketing. However, it is not all virtual. Working within interdisciplinary teams across organisations, and even geographical boundaries, will require social intelligence to build bridges and understand the nuances of different cultures.


Developing these five skills will help prepare you to succeed, but they are only part of the picture. To learn about the other things you’ll need, continue reading Part 2: Adapt your ‘self’ for success.