The Skills You Need for the Road Ahead



What are the key skills for the road ahead?  Well, depending on where you look you get a variety of answers.

However, business skills and technical skills seem to consistently show up, as well as being adaptable and flexible to deal with today’s cycle of change.

In businessThink: Rules for Getting It Right–Now, and No Matter What, Dave Marcum, Steve Smith, and Mahan Khalsa write about the skills you need for the future.

Skills You Need for the Future

According to the authors, when Accenture interviewed  500 executives around the world and asked “what workforce skills are in most demand and will be the most needed over the next two to five years?” this is how they answers:

  1. Business Skills: 68 percent
  2. Technical Skills: 42 percent
  3. Flexibility and adaptability: 33 percent
  4. Self-motivation: 18 percent
  5. Leadership: 6 percent
  6. Functional: 3 percent

Self-Motivated Leader or Flexible, Adaptable Businessperson

The authors write:

“So the question is, would you like to become a functional, self-motivated leader, or a flexible, adaptable businessperson with great technical skills.

People who can independently think on their feet, work cross-functionally, learn new skills quickly, and work to make great business decisions that are customer focused (for both internal and external customers) will be indispensible to their companies and in high market demand.

By the way, executives not only said they expect to need these skills shortly, they also expect these skills to be very difficult to come by (good demand news for you in the supply and demand of labor economics — if you live by the rules). “

According to the research, executives will be looking for flexible, adaptable business people with great technical skills.   Change can make or break people, so flexibility and adaptability are easy to understand.   The world of business continues to go digital and technology plays a key role so having technology savvy people can certainly have an edge.  Given how quickly things change, I can see how functional knowledge is less important, especially if flexibility is favorable.  I suspect this very much depends on the context and nature of the work.

I’m still surprised how low leadership ranks in the poll.  Maybe the justification there is that it’s easier to teach leadership to business savvy people, than to teach effective business skills to people that are just strong in leadership, but lack business acumen.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Leadership ranks lower than technical skills. The surprise for me is how low the leadership ranks. I guess you only need so many leaders in comparison to the overall workforce. On the other hand, if you consider influence in its many forms, an aspect of leadership, then I think leadership belongs much higher. Influence is a way to get results more efficiently and effectively. Put it another way, if you can’t influence, you’ll have a tough time getting the support you need to get things done.
  • Business skills and technical skills go hand in hand. I’m not surprised that business skills and technical skills are a priority and they go hand in hand. One without the other can be ineffective. If you have business skills, but you don’t use today’s tools or understand the changing landscapes, you won’t be as effective as those that do. Similarly, if you have technical skills, but you can’t turn them into business value, you won’t be as useful as someone who can.
  • Flexibility and adaptability are key. I’m glad to see flexibility and adaptability explicitly called out. I’m a fan of continuous improvement. I think a big part of today’s success is adapting to changes, and finding ways to make the most of new opportunities.

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