Key to the future of learning: developing the skills to make good choices in a changing world

Our future is contingent on adaptability as we solve for the coming and continuous changes at the workplace, in our society, and in the world.

Efforts to reimagine the future of work by countless researchers, academics and progressive business leaders were both disrupted and accelerated when the novel coronavirus upended business as usual earlier this year.

How we responded to COVID-19 is a perfect test case for the kind of leadership qualities we require in the future of work. We need leaders and employees capable of making good choices – ones that consider all stakeholders, are socially responsible, and are aligned with a company’s values, mission, and purpose.

Key to this future is a capacity to develop employees and hire leaders with “problem-solving skills” – particularly in a world where the next crisis is neither predictable nor part of an existing risk matrix.

In fact, looking only slightly into the future, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum, the Top 10 skills needed for 2025 are:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality, and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring, and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation

Unlike job competencies, these skills are vital to all types of work and there are many new ways to get skills, get certified, and get going into new career directions, and programs range from days, to weekends, to weeks, to months.

Why should you invest your time toward learning? Recently, a column in the New York Times, After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work awaits, Tom Friedman quotes Heather E. McGowan who says, “Learning is the new pension…. It’s how you create your future value every day.”

Long gone are the days when a college diploma meant your formal education was concluded. Now, for companies and individuals, sustainable career path now follows a “work-learn-work-learn-work-learn” cadence, according to McGowan.

The recent World Economic Forum Job Reset Summit, which focused on economy, education, and jobs through the added challenge of a global pandemic, but also--and importantly—with an eye toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, reinforced this urgency. Upskillers and reskillers, which WEF defines as giving workers the skills and capabilities needed for the future workplace, need to embrace and adapt to the job skills that will be required from us, and we must do so quickly and agilely.

As we try new things and grow our personal and professional knowledge base, we must develop a new mindset of the 2020s learner: as one panelist at the WEF Jobs Summit put it, “frame for learning,” which is characterized as a “learn-it-all” rather than a “know-it-all.”

Bulletproof your employability by taking note, essentially, and then take a class. As another panelist put it “think like a scientist.” Be curious, look for evidence, and experiment.

No matter how fast technology and the future of work seems to be hurdling toward us --upending everything we previously understood about the workplace -- there are skills, habits, rituals, and behaviors that cannot be replaced by machines or AI—at least not yet. If AI’s got you worried, here’s an even shorter list of capabilities found in this report that only humans can handle.

  • Engage in non-verbal communication
  • show deep empathy to customers
  • undertake growth management
  • employ mind management
  • perform collective intelligence management

And what’s truly fantastic is that you can do all these things and bring your whole self – that portable self—to work. Now more than ever workplaces know that followers want leaders who lead with values and sense of purpose. We want them to show these competencies:

  1. Empathetic
  2. Decisive
  3. Transparent
  4. Collaborative
  5. Persuasive

Here, order matters. A survey revealed that WEF attendees prioritized these attributes in precisely this order. Leaders gain followers when they are collaborative and engage at work using empathy, ethical decision-making, and transparency. The future is calling and it’s up to each of us to answer the call.