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Career Success
JUL 19, 2019

Three Career Skills You Need to Thrive in the 21st Century Workplace

By Darren Menabney
iStock photo/Tera Vector

Skills currency—the idea that our skills must always be up to date—is a necessity for business professionals. Without the right mix of current and relevant skills, we cannot provide value to our employers and customers.

Training and upgrading have allowed professionals to keep their skills current in the past, but things are changing. In times of technological disruption (such as now), skills currency is more vital than ever. The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are already impacting how we work, and both the speed and size of that impact will accelerate in the decades ahead.

How might these disruptions impact your job over the next decade?

First, the bad news.

The World Economic Forum’s 2018 “The Future of Jobs Report” notes that 75 million jobs will be displaced—lost—by 2022 as the balance of labor shifts to AI and robots.

Now the good news.

That same report notes that AI, robotics, and automation will create 133 million new jobs. That means a net gain of 58 million new jobs around the world. Automation will likely create more jobs than it will eliminate.

To ensure that yours is not one of those 75 million lost jobs, there are some things that you’ll need to do to bolster your skills currency. This is because it’s not entirely accurate to say that AI will replace jobs; it’s more accurate to say that AI will replace tasks. Jobs which rely heavily on tasks that can be automated are far more likely to be replaced than jobs which depend on a variety of skills—particularly skills which are difficult to automate.

There are many skills professionals already need to survive, both hard and soft, but as machines become smarter beyond 2022 and automation really takes hold, it’ll be soft skills that come to dominate, that give humans an edge over machines. To keep your career safe from the robots, make sure that you are good at the things they aren’t.

You’ll need three skills in your toolkit to safeguard your career in 2022 and beyond: critical thinking, storytelling, and design thinking.

Critical Thinking: Ask better questions

Critical thinking is the ability to objectively analyze and understand a situation to arrive at a conclusion which is logically sound and free of bias.

It is a problem-solving process, and it tops the list of skills which are most needed in the current and future workforces. The World Economic Forum ranks critical thinking as the second most needed skill to survive the rise of automation in the near future, with complex problem-solving—one way we at GLOBIS see critical thinking—as the most needed skill. In an era of fake news, deepfake videos, and social media manipulation, it pays to think critically and maintain a healthy skepticism about what we see and read.

Another reason critical thinking is so vital is its emphasis on asking the right questions before looking at answers. We humans are quite good at using our intuition, life experience, creativity, and knowledge of human behavior to ask better questions. Computers, on the other hand, excel at answering questions, and the revolutions in AI, big data, and the internet of things will lead to machines getting even better at providing insights. But they can’t do that if we’re not asking them the right questions.

Storytelling: Communicate like a human

If there is one thing that we humans can do far better than any machine, it’s communicate with empathy. One of the ways we do this is through telling stories, and we do that a lot. Psychologists estimate that up to 65% of our daily communication involves some form of storytelling or gossip. Our human brains are wired for storytelling; we’ve been sitting around campfires telling each other stories for over 50,000 years.

Storytelling is an effective marketing tool because it’s the most powerful way to inform, persuade, and inspire others. In business, we tell stories all the time: stories of our colleagues, our competitors, our customers, and our products.

Effective storytelling requires empathy and an understanding of human nature, but machines cannot generate empathy. AI might get there one day, but for the next few decades this seems to be another area where we have the edge. In fact, empathy-driven communication—storytelling—has been identified by the McKinsey Global Institute as one of the skillsets that will ensure never being out of a career.

Design Thinking: Creativity driven by empathy

Design thinking has a lot in common with critical thinking and storytelling. It is a process, and it relies heavily on empathy. In its simplest definition, design thinking means approaching challenges with a mindset like a designer who must think about the end user and show empathy when creating products or services. What are the user’s needs? What kind of experience do they want? How will they use the product or service? Design thinking applies this mindset to a range of business and social problems, from designing a computer mouse to designing a school system or a better experience for hospital patients. No wonder design thinking is already one of the most in-demand job skills, even described by Microsoft as a key skill of the future.

It all comes back to empathy and our ability to excel where machines—even thinking machines—can’t.

What You Can Do

Critical thinking, storytelling, and design thinking are all skills that anyone can learn. But how good are you at each of them now?

You likely have some gaps, so it’s necessary to identify those gaps and ways to bridge them through study. In fact, simply by learning and studying to upgrade your skills in these three areas, you are giving yourself the right mindset to thrive. The future will require constant re-invention, awareness of where the technology is going, and the skill currency to position yourself ahead of your current and future machine colleagues.