Will hard or soft skills be the ticket to future jobs?

As the world moves into the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by a fusion of technologies, the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres are being blurred. Compared with previous industrial revolutions, this one is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace, and disrupting almost every industry. 

In this new world, leadership and business optimisation is more about steering interconnectivity between machines and people; across companies, countries and value networks. 

So what skills will people need? In 2020, 90% of jobs will require digital skills[1] and foundation skills will need to comprise analytics, applications, network management, security and privacy. 

A 2016 OECD report, Skills Matter, focussed on the necessity for adults to have a capacity to manage information and solve problems using computers as ICT applications permeate the workplace, education systems, the home and social interaction. It found, unsurprisingly, that adults with higher proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments tend to have better outcomes in the labour market. Workers who use information-processing skills more intensively in their jobs tend to earn higher wages. 

However, it is not only cognitive skills that are ramping up. While the essential skills of the future are undoubtedly those dominated by STEM, advanced social skills will be just as important in the new order. Working will involve high-order critical thinking and analytical skills – a higher level of employability or ‘soft skills’. A broader concept of teamwork will have workers needing to work in business in real and virtual ways – and with artificial beings – across the globe.[2] 

Ai Group’s Workforce Development Needs Survey last year found employers’ most important recruiting factors are a candidate’s fit to the business culture and relevant work experience. They expressed some dissatisfaction with the problem solving and organisation skills of all cohorts once recruited. 

After capable workers are recruited, companies need to implement high-performing workplace practices such as teamwork, autonomy, task direction, mentoring, job rotation and the application of new learning. These can play a hand in continuing the use of both cognitive and social skills by workers, thereby creating a more productive workforce. 

This article first appeared on the Ai Group blog page. Anne Younger joined Ai Group 11 years ago as an economist and is currently the general manager, Education and Training.

  1. European Commission, 2016
  2. John Lydon, David Dyer, Chris Bradley, McKinseys, Compete to Prosper: Improving Australia’s Global Competitiveness, 2014


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