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Work skills for the emerging business world Published: Sunday, October 2, 2011 8:00 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, President & CEO


To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners. The landscape has changed and educational institutions should also consider how to adapt quickly in response. Businesses must also be alert to the changing environment and adapt their workforce planning and development strategies to ensure alignment with future skill requirements. Strategic human resource professionals might reconsider traditional methods for identifying critical skills, as well as selecting and developing talent.

Such are the conclusions of a comprehensive study published recently by the Institute for the Future of the University of Phoenix Research Institute. Considering the disruptions likely to reshape the future will enhance businesses’ ability to ensure organizational talent has and continuously renews the skills necessary for the sustainability of business goals. A workforce strategy for sustaining business goals should be one of the most critical outcomes of human resource professionals and should involve collaborating with universities to address lifelong learning and skill requirements.

The study identifies the following drivers of change that are paving the new skills requirements:  Extreme longevity (increasing global life spans that change the nature of careers and learning), Rise of smart machines and systems (workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks), Computational world (massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system), New media ecology (new communication tools require new media literacies beyond text), Superstructed organizations (social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation), Globally connected world (Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations).

What do these six disruptive forces mean for the workers of the next decade? The study identified ten skills that will be critical for success in the workforce. Those are the following:

  1. Sense making:  As smart machines take over rote, routine manufacturing and services jobs, there will be an increasing demand for the kinds of skills machines are not good at. These are higher- level thinking skills that cannot be codified. We call these sense-making skills, skills that help us create unique insights critical to decision making.
  2. Social Intelligence: Socially intelligent employees are able to quickly assess the emotions of those around them and adapt their words, tone and gestures accordingly. This has always been a key skill for workers who need to collaborate and build relationships of trust, but it is even more important as we are called on to collaborate with larger groups of people in different settings.
  3. Novel and adaptive thinking: Future tasks will demand “situational adaptability”, the ability to respond to unique unexpected circumstances of the moment.
  4. Cross-cultural competence:  Cross-cultural competency will become an important skill for all workers, not just those who have to operate in diverse geographical environments. Organizations increasingly see diversity as a driver of innovation.
  5. Computational thinking: As the amount of data that we have at our disposal increases exponentially, many more roles will require computational thinking skills in order to make sense of this information.
  6. New media literacy: The explosion in user-generated media including the videos, blogs, and podcasts that now dominate our social lives, will be fully felt in workplaces in the next decade. Communication tools that break away from the static slide approach of programs such as PowerPoint will become commonplace, and with them expectations of worker ability to produce content using these new forms will rise dramatically.
  7. Transdisciplinarity: The ideal worker of the next decade is “T-shaped”—they bring deep understanding of at least one field, but have the capacity to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines. This requires a sense of curiosity and a willingness to go on learning far beyond the years of formal education.
  8. Design Thinking: This is the ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes.
  9. Cognitive load management: The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.
  10. Virtual Collaboration: This is the ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

We live and interact in a large, complex global environment. The quality of thinking and creative action needed to thrive in this environment must match the complexity and interdependent nature of the environment. Our tools and technologies shape the kinds of social, economic, and political organizations we inhabit. Many organizations we are familiar with today, including educational and corporate ones, are products of centuries-old scientific knowledge and technologies. Today we see this organizational landscape being disrupted. A new generation of organizational concepts and work skills is coming not from traditional management/organizational theories but from fields such as game design, neuroscience, and happiness psychology. These fields will drive the creation of new training paradigms and tools.


Copyright 2011 QBS, Inc.
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