The Most Important Work Skills for 2020

In a research paper issued in 2011, the Institute for the Future argued that identifying what are likely to be the most important work skills as of 2020 begins with recognizing and acknowledging six key drivers of disruptive change: extreme longevity (i.e., “people are living longer”); the rise of smart machines and systems that can augment and extend human capabilities and automate workplace tasks leading to elimination of repetitive jobs; the expansion of the “computational world”; new media ecology based on development of new communications tools that require media literacy beyond text; “superstructed” organizations that leverage social technologies and tools to drive new forms of production and value creation and work at extreme scales; and emergence of a “globally connected world” in which job creation, innovation and political power is no longer horded Western countries.  These drivers of change suggest that workers invest their time and effort in developing the following work skills in order to be successful in 2020 and beyond:

  • Sense making—the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed in order to cope with the rise of smart machines and systems
  • Social intelligence—the ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions in order to cope with the rise of smart machines and system and manage effectively in a globally connected world
  • Novel and adaptive thinking–proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based in order to cope with the rise of smart machines and systems
  • Cross cultural competency—the ability to operate in different cultural settings in order to operate effectively in a globally connected world and inside superstructed organizations
  • Computational thinking—the ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data based reasoning in order to survive in the new media ecology and the computational world
  • New media literacy—the ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communications in order to cope with extreme longevity, new media ecology and superstructed organizations
  • Transdisciplinary skills–literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines in order to cope with extreme longevity and the computational world
  • Design mindset—the ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes in order to prosper in superstructed organizations and a computational world
  • Cognitive load management—the ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functions in order to cope with superstructed organizations, a computational world and new media ecology
  • Virtual collaboration—the ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team in order to survive and prosper in a globally connected world and in superstructed organizations

Sources: A. Davies, D. Fidler, M. Gorbis, Future Work Skills 2020 (Palo Alto CA: Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute, 2011) (as cited and described in “The 10 Most Important Work Skills in 2020, Top 10 Online Colleges).

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