In an ever-changing business environment, modern professionals need to learn a catalog of new skills to stay on top.
To help you prepare, we’ll dive deep into the skills business professionals need to be “future-ready,” based on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 Future of Jobs report. This survey shares how the history of economic cycles and the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs and skills in the next five years will impact the future of work.
Additionally, we spoke with Daniels College of Business experts Stephen Haag, a professor of the practice in the Department of Business Information and Analytics, and Bob Kumagai, executive director of Career Services, to learn more about how to gain and improve these skills.
What skills will be most valuable for the future?
The most important skills going forward fall into four main categories: technology use and development, problem solving, self-management, and working with people. Within each category, there are specific skills that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Technology Use and Development
According to data from the Future of Jobs survey, formal training most commonly focuses on technology and design skills. So, employees who are improving their stock are most often the ones that are improving their aptitude with technology.
Haag agrees, adding that he instructs his students to think about what they can add to their LinkedIn profile at the end of each quarter.
“I tell them to try to take every advantage you can to create a very minimum proficiency in various technology tools that they may have access to,” he said. “Being able to put those tools down on LinkedIn and your resume and everything else creates separators for them from the rest of the community.”
Within the technology use and development category, the survey identified five key skills that will be most in-demand for the future: cloud computing, big data analytics, encryption and cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. We’ll dig into a few specifically in this section.
Big Data Analytics
Whether your job requires you to handle data or not, being comfortable turning swaths of numbers into key insights is a differentiator for the next generation of business professionals.
“Comfort with data is still crucial,” Kumagai said. “That need is still seen as very acute and the supply of folks that have those skills is still far outpaced by the demand for those skills.”
The report stated that there will be a “a significant increase in the number of firms expecting to adopt non-humanoid robots and artificial intelligence, with both technologies slowly becoming a mainstay of work across industries.”
So, the more familiar you are with this technology, the less likely your job is to be displaced. That doesn’t mean that you’ll outpace the automation, rather that skills in this area will put you in a place to manage the processes.
Blockchain is more than just cryptocurrency and Bitcoin, with the distributed ledger technology playing a role in a variety of financial services to ensure security. Going forward, Haag said he thought blockchain would be involved in all aspects of mainstream business, making it a key skill for professionals to be comfortable with.
How to improve your technological skills
Haag encouraged those looking to improve their technological skills to seek coursework and certifications with organizations like LinkedIn, Udemy, Coursera, Google and more. Daniels also offers certificate programs that can help students upskill without having to enroll in a master’s degree program. Haag said the best job candidates for today’s competitive market are those with the most diverse skillset.
“The very narrow-minded, narrow-viewed person going through a major, who hasn’t expanded out to these other things, is not actually the most highly desired candidate,” he said. Haag also recently self-published a book, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution 2022: What Every College and High School Student Needs to Know About the Future,” where he dove deep into the hottest tech terms and concepts students will use to build the future.
Kumagai added that students should be learning as much as they can about a variety of skills, leaving a little room for additional guidance at their job.
“As long as you have a good solid base of tech skills, then employers will teach and train for the specifics,” he said.
Students looking for additional technical skills can also pursue graduate degrees in their preferred focus area. Daniels offers a master’s program in Digital Leadership, as well as a graduate certificate in Digital Transformation, that provide the requisite skills to create the next generation of digital leaders. Students learn about many of the previously mentioned skills and set themselves up for future job opportunities in the digital workforce.
Problem solving has always been an important tool in a business professional’s kit, but it has only been elevated by the challenges brought on after COVID-19. Now, more than ever before, leaders have to be agile in adapting to a rapidly changing business landscape. So, with a new set of problems comes a new set of skills to help solve them. The five most crucial skills, according to the Future of Jobs report, are analytical thinking and innovation; complex problem solving; critical thinking and analysis; creativity, originality and initiative; and reasoning, problem solving and ideation.
Even if you aren’t in a role that focuses on innovation, Haag says modern companies value analytical thinking highly in their employees.
“They need people who can work in teams; they need innovation experts even as intrapreneurs,” he said.
Self-starters and those motivated to take on new things without having to be asked will excel in the future business economy. According to the report, top candidates with this skill demonstrate a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
Skill in reasoning will show that you have the ability to take complex problems and deliver concise ideas from them. These are abilities that influence the application and manipulation of information in problem-solving, WEF said in the report.
How to improve your problem-solving skills
For those who aren’t naturally drawn to problem solving, Haag said practice makes perfect. He compared it to becoming more comfortable with presenting, in that the only way to improve is to do it over and over.
“If you don’t have that knack for solving problems, thinking around corners, seeing what others can’t see, then you shouldn’t shy away from it,” he said. “Volunteer for it any chance you can get. A lot of it is a skill you can learn.”
With much of our master’s degree programs’ curricula focused on project-based learning, Daniels students are often exposed to hands-on problem solving. Consider enrolling in a business master’s program, such as the Master of Science in Marketing, if you’d like to improve your problem-solving skills and prepare yourself for the future of work.
While many of the previous skills mentioned have been important since long before the pandemic, self-management has emerged as a new skill in our digital environment. The report found that in addition to skills that are directly job-relevant, during the COVID-19 context of 2020, data has been able to identify an increasing emphasis within learner reskilling and upskilling efforts on personal development and self-management skills.
This echoed the Future of Jobs report’s earlier findings on the importance of well-being when managing in the remote and hybrid work environment. In particular, self-management skills such as mindfulness, meditation, gratitude and kindness are among the top-10 focus areas of those in employment, in contrast to the more technical skills that were in focus in 2019.
Active Learning and Learning Strategies
The report found that business professionals should understand the implications of new information for both current and future problem solving and decision making—now more than ever before.
Resilience, Stress Tolerance and Flexibility
With an uncertain business climate over the last few years spurred by the pandemic, high-performing employees have had to learn how to manage their stress and be flexible to an ever-changing environment.
This isn’t unfamiliar to the landscape students find themselves in, Haag said.
“The important thing in self-management is often managing chaos because that’s what their life is,” he said. “Learning by fire, learning to manage a chaotic world and make sense of it, because anybody can manage structure.”
How to improve your self-management skills
Self-management often comes down to setting priorities, creating a plan to achieve them and following that plan (while leaving some room for changes). Ultimately, even the best laid plans sometimes go wrong, but preparation can help quiet the chaos.
Within graduate programs at Daniels, students are juggling various responsibilities and projects, learning how to set priorities and achieve success in a real-world business environment. Programs like our part-time Professional MBA and Executive MBA take it a step further, with students learning to balance their home, work and school life at once.
Working with People
As you advance through the business world, the ability to work with other stakeholders, whether your peers or direct reports, increases in importance. The report found that attitudes are learned and often a big part of learning and the approach to doing tasks. So, how you treat other people has a trickle-down effect within your organization.
Leadership and Social Influence
Kumagai said that leaders are often formed in two ways. Either they show some level of subject matter or tactical competency and someone encourages them to lead, or they show an interest in leadership and are ushered into the role. Regardless of how they land there, he said leading is about practice.
“Management and learning to be a leader is a lot about just doing it,” he said.
Having recently attended a conference on in-demand job skills, Kumagai said there’s an increased focus across the business landscape on employees with high emotional intelligence. These skills are used to work with people to achieve goals, in particular, being pleasant, cooperative, sensitive to others, easy to get along with and enjoying work with people.
Persuasion and Negotiation
Whether you realize it or not, negotiation is part of every job you have. You don’t have to be in sales to negotiate, as things like project management and human resources involve persuasion and negotiation on a daily basis. So, the stronger these skills are, the better off you will be at your current job or when applying for your next one.
How to improve the way you work with people
There’s no secret sauce to improving your people skills, but the more you do it in a positive way, the stronger this skill will become for you.
Kumagai said student organizations on campus offer an ideal way to wade into the leadership waters and build your skills. Clubs and professional groups are quick ways to upskill in leadership if you aren’t already in a position where you manage others.
Executive Education at Daniels offers webinars, workshops, courses and customized programs in a variety of leadership and business topics to help you upskill. The offerings provide education for working professionals, lessons for lifelong learners and bonding experiences for teams. Within the program, students can take the Insights Discovery System, a simple yet powerful framework used extensively in organizations worldwide. Using this tool, you’ll develop and improve personal leadership, high-performing teams and interpersonal communication in the workplace by learning more about yourself and how you interact.
Refine your future-ready skills at Daniels
When it comes to refining your skills, Haag offered one piece of advice that is applicable to all types of business professionals.
“You make two choices—one is what you’re best at and the other is your passion,” he said. “Passion leads you to an industry and what you’re good at leads you to a job.”
If you’re looking for a way to upskill yourself in any or all of the areas mentioned in this story, be sure to check out Daniels’ catalog of graduate-level programs and courses. There are a variety of focuses to fit your business needs and prepare you for the future. Kumagai added that business school students will leave their education with a strong set of skills that will help them future-proof their repertoire.
“Students coming out of business colleges like Daniels, they’re going to come out with a good base,” he said.