Future of Work

In the workplace of the future, these are the skills employers want

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) shakes hands with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the Gleneagles Hotel for the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland July 7, 2005. Aid, debt relief and climate change will top the agenda when leaders of the G8 - the Group of Seven industrialised nations plus Russia - meet for three days in Gleneagles. UNICS REUTERS/Jim Young  CRB - RTRGQCN

Employers are specifically recruiting for social capital skills Image: REUTERS/Jim Young

Libby Sander
PhD Candidate, Griffith University Published
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Future of Work?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of Work

Surveys of the key skills employers seek in graduates continue to place so-called “soft skills” – like verbal and written communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively in teams and to influence others – in the top ten. But a 2016 report found that other skills – such as critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and writing – top the list of missing skills among job-seekers.

These skills are rated as being important across all jobs and industries. And employees not having these skills costs businesses thousands of dollars per year.

In the first major review in two decades, the New South Wales Higher School Certificate syllabus is set to focus on ensuring students are more work-ready. The changes will put an emphasis on depth and rigour across key subject areas including English, maths, the sciences and history.

Developing these skills in young people will require not only a shift in subject matter, but also a change in how students are taught. Only one in ten Australian teachers have recently participated in professional development to help students develop generic, transferable skills for future work.

The change of emphasis in the English curriculum appears well-placed given the importance of communication skills – and that current graduates are seen to lack these.

How important are these skills?

A US survey has found miscommunication costs businesses with up to 100 staff an average of US$420,000 per year. Even more staggeringly, in another study, 400 businesses with at least 100,000 employees each claimed that inadequate communication cost an average of US$62.4 million per company per year.

A study of science recruiters found 60% of respondents rated the ability to work collaboratively as most important, followed by adaptability (45%) and interpersonal relationship building (41%). Most respondents felt that applicants were lacking in these skills, particularly in critical thinking.

Notably, this study showed that employers considered soft skills as important as academic ability. Yet both current and potential employees are often reported as being “deficient” in these same skills.

It may appear that these core communication skill requirements of employers have not changed much over time. But the emphasis on collaborative work has altered dramatically. A Harvard Business Review study found that the time managers and employees spend on collaborative activities has increased by more than 50% in the past 20 years.

Modern workplace environments reflect this shift. Open-plan workplaces designed to increase interaction and collaboration are the norm. So, in addition to the job’s requirements, workplace design means these interpersonal and influencing skills are more important than ever.

In the past, you could escape difficult personalities and noisy co-workers by shutting the office door. The design of the modern workplace, coupled with the increased requirement to collaborate across teams and divisions, underscores the importance of increasing the soft-skill capacity of current and future employees.

What do employers want?

Employers are specifically recruiting for social capital skills – that is, employees who have well-developed influencing skills – to assist in building networks and the employer’s brand.

Where these roles were once seen as the domain of senior managers and marketing teams, the requirement for these influencing skills now extends across organisations.

As a result of these changes, the approach to developing soft skills is being examined. A 2016 report from a joint federal government and OECD workshop underscored the importance of developing adaptability in young people, as well as enterprise skills that can be applied across a wide range of contexts.

Similarly, a report by the Foundation for Young Australians suggests that future jobs will demand transferable enterprise skills such as communication, critical thinking and presentation skills 70% more than jobs of the past.

Demand for these critical thinking skills has risen 158% in early-career job ads in the last three years alone. And early-career job ads requiring presentation skills pay an average of A$8,853 more than those that don’t.

Universities have come in for criticism from industry and corporate recruiters who argue that master of business administration programs need to be relevant and do more to develop leadership, communication and soft skills.

More needs to be done with educators, industry and government working together to ensure young people will be equipped with the skills they need for future jobs.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Future of WorkEducationEmerging-Market Multinationals
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Green job vacancies are on the rise – but workers with green skills are in short supply

Andrea Willige

February 29, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum