Updated: Mar 3, 2021
According to the World Economic Forum, half of us will need to reskill in the next five years as a result of what is being dubbed the 'double disruption' of the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing automation that is transforming the job market across all sectors.
Even those that are not planning to move jobs or sectors will find that there will be a shift in their roles in terms of the core skills required. This will mean that most of the global workforce in some shape or form will need to reskill. Recent school leavers and graduates will need to ensure that they can demonstrate the skills that employers are looking for. Academic transcripts will no longer hold the weight that they used to without actual demonstrations either in an assessment centre scenario (remote or in person), individual and group interview of the most in-demand skills.
The top 10 skills that employers will be seeking by 2025 according to the WEF are:
Analytical thinking and innovation
Active learning and learning strategies
Critical thinking and analysis
Creativity, originality and initiative
Leadership and social influence
Technology use, monitoring and control
Technology design and programming
Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
All of these skills are grouped into four distinct categories: problem-solving, self -management, working with people, technology use and development.
This blog post will focus on what recent school leavers and/or university graduates can do to mitigate the impact of the double disruption on the start of their careers.
The message is clear however that the time to start building new skills for the jobs of tomorrow is now.
One approach to analytical thinking, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, initiative, originality, reasoning, ideation and innovation is design thinking. This is not a complex skill to learn, and in fact is more akin to a mindset shift.
Imagine that you have been called for a Zoom group interview. In this interview the group is given a scenario in which there is a problem that needs to be solved. There are time and budget constraints.
Let's say that the problem that needs to be solved involves a bank that wants to introduce a new savings account for children but isn't clear on the product offering.
Employing design thinking as a problem-solving strategy will ensure that you are focused on the objective. Design thinking requires adaptability, strong communication skills and an ability to iterate continually.
Watch this short video on design thinking that is taken from my Creative Thinking Masterclass course to see how design thinking could work in this scenario and showcase your abilities to hit those most in-demand problem-solving skills:
Another skill that you can begin to develop to demonstrate your keen problem-solving skills is systems thinking. Try to imagine the world as a web and within those webs are even more webs. They are all interconnected and related to each other. Along each strand of each web, there is an issue or idea which has a relationship to another issue or idea on the next strand and the next. We could describe this as a synthesis of ideas or a structure. When all of these ideas and issues combine, we have a system.
So, instead of simply analysing an idea like marketing in isolation, a systems thinker would consider it just one part of a larger interconnected system.
A systems thinker does not see ideas or issues as silos or as isolated concepts. They come at problem-solving with an understanding that the world is interconnected.
When we have our webs constructed, we can start to understand them, identify and gaps or areas which are unsustainable and liable to break. We can then move forward and ask targeted questions to try to understand how we can rebuild or if we need to reconfigure or alter the system itself.
Systems can be tricky to alter. This is because if you remove one issue or idea, there will be a knock on effect to another. Systems thinking is about creating a balance in order for the system to work as a whole rather than separate parts.
Think of the human body. The body is made up of 78 organs. Every organ provides its own function for human performance. There are cells, blood, hair, veins, etc. On their own they are not that useful (unless they are being transplanted where they are needed), but together they work and allow human beings to survive.
So, if we go back to the visualisation of the web, the body would be the spider or prey in the centre of the system and the strands of the web would be all of the component parts of the human body. If you were to disrupt this system and remove the gallbladder, the system or human body would not collapse and be destroyed, but there may be a knock-on effect of the human body developing jaundice which could result in the yellowing of the skin.
But if the human body experienced a decrease in the function of the heart, this would impact the body tissues which would be deficient in blood and oxygen which could then result in blood backing up, increasing pressure in the blood vessels and forcing fluid into body tissues which could result in heart failure and without intervention, the system in this human body would collapse. If you were looking at the system of the human body to try an improve the function of the heart, you might look at a second interconnected web that was related to diet or one that is related to exercise or stress reduction.
What you need to understand is that knowing lots of facts about something, say the human body, is great, but knowledge alone is not enough to solve problems.
This is where systems thinking comes in.
Anything that you can possibly think of is a component part of a larger system. You are part of a system – where you live, where you are educated, your family, your hobbies these are all systems within systems.
When we are trying to develop our systems thinking skills it is a good idea to think of ourselves taking a massive step back to try and get a bigger picture view of an issue.
To practise this skill of systems thinking, try creating your own 'web' or systems diagram to show the interconnected nature of climate change, Bitcoin and social media.
Creative problem solving skills are not simply acquired and boxed up. They need continual practise and nurturing. You can get started developing these skills right now with me in my Creative Thinking Masterclass and then join the LinkedIn group to network with likeminded individuals to continue on with your journey. I also have created workbooks, audio and eBooks to support this practice. You can find these resources here.
Active learning, learning strategies, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility all make up the WEF's collection of essential self-management skills.
I think that one approach to demonstrate these skills is thinking about examples of times when you have had to employ such characteristics in your life. You can talk about the experience, what went well, what you would do differently and what you learned overall. If you do not have a great deal of work experience, your examples are going to be limited by your life experience.
That said, there will have been at least one occasion where you have had to demonstrate flexibility to adapt to different people and circumstances. Think about how you handled that. Did you do it with grace or irritation? How have you dealt with unexpected change or occurrences? These are what we might call black swans. How do you deal with people with different personalities and work ethic/rate to yours? Do you ever use humour to quell a tense situation? Have you shown resourcefulness when organising an event? How did you ensure that you were meeting the needs of all stakeholders?
In an interview situation, questions on self management are trying to identify your behaviours and how you will cope in challenging and unpredictable situations.
Consider using the STAR method to organise your thoughts about your self management skills. STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action, and result. With this technique, you will be able to prepare and give clear and straight to the point answers to questions.
What you need to demonstrate is a situation in which you had a task to complete, what you did to rise to that challenge, how you coped with unexpected challenges, the challenges that you anticipated and the overall result. The STAR approach should allow you to showcase your adaptability, flexibility, resilience and positivity. View this almost as a story telling approach (a very short story!) as stories are a way for us to connect with others. If your story is genuine, your personality, behaviour traits and authenticity will shine through.
But, if you are really struggling for stories to tell using STAR, you need to address this quickly. You need to identify situations that you can put your hand to that offer you new experiences to learn. If this helps others in the process, then all the better. Here are eight ideas that you can start even in a lockdown situation:
Contact a local food bank and offer to volunteer.
Make leaflets to drop around the houses in your local area offering help with odd jobs and grocery shopping to vulnerable people.
Cut the grass in the gardens of vulnerable people.
Start a book subscription service where people sign up on a simple website or Instagram. Each person commits to sending another person a book of their choice.
Save £50 and start trading on the stock market. Your constraint is that you cannot add in any more funds.
Take your revision notes that you made for your exams - reformat them and share key ideas or skills on social media. Set yourself a goal of gaining a following and supporting the learning of others.
Where and when safe to do so, challenge yourself to walk/hike/swim/run. Perhaps you could set yourself a challenge of covering the distance from one city to another on a treadmill. Organise a community group to add together their distances and see how far you can get.
Challenge yourself to read a book a week. Share your journey on LinkedIn. Each day share what you have learned about the process and yourself. If reading non-fiction books (perhaps an idea if you are interested in business is to read a business book a week), share your main takeaways. Gain a following.
The key take away here is that you should not wait for an opportunity to drop into your lap. You cannot simply protest that you didn't have any chances to practise these skills. You have to play an active role in your life. In challenging times such as these and with the very real threat of double disruption caused by the pandemic and increased automation of jobs, you have to be active rather than passive in your future.
Working with people
Leadership and social influence are tricky skills to acquire without work experience, however you may be able to think of a time where you led a project at school or university. What did you learn about dealing with people? Did you ever act as a coach for younger learners in academic subjects, sports or music? Did you help out at a local youth group such as Scouts?
These skills are important because they identify your reliability and trustworthiness, your organisation and management skills, your social and interpersonal skills and your influence.
There are ways that you can demonstrate these skills without formal authority by setting an example, by coaching and encouraging others.
Think about the ways that you have dealt with 'difficult' people. Did you manage to turn a situation from a negative to a positive? How did you do this?
Have you had a part time job in the past that you could reference that identifies that you are were reliable and trustworthy? Were you part of a committee at school or university that required you to meet deadlines and encourage others to meet these too?
It can be tricky to create leadership opportunities in these challenging times, so one option could be to show prospective employers that you have identified that this is a skill that you are keen to develop and have taken steps to address this in your own time and off your own back.
Take a look at this course run by Harvard University called Exercising Leadership: Foundational Principles. It is FREE and takes 2-3 hours a week over a 4-week period. The course is described as
"The crises of our time generate enormous adaptive challenges for our families, organizations, communities, and societies. The need for leadership that can mobilise people to meet these challenges and improve life is critical.
In this introductory course, you will explore strategies for leading in a changing world where adaptive pressures will continue to challenge all of us. You will discover new ways to approach complex organizational systems and take thoughtful action on the work we all face ahead. Most importantly, you will reflect on how to move forward on the leadership challenges you care about most."
What you will learn on the course is outlined as:
A diagnostic-and-action process for exercising leadership that explores the following foundational principles and strategies:
How to identify and unbundle complex challenges
How to understand the role of formal and informal authority
How to identify the key perspectives of stakeholders
How to build and renew trust relationships
How to approach conflict
How to implement personal strategies for surviving and thriving amidst change
There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing a course like this. Share your learning journey on LinkedIn. Add a relevant hashing such as #leadership to gain more traction. Start building up your connections with people who work for companies that you want to work for. Look at their resumes to get a sense of the journeys of others.
Technology use and development
Technological skills are essential for all jobs and where there is risk of automation of manual tasks, there is a risk to jobs. AI is now able to write newspaper articles and evaluate data among other processes.
Keeping abreast of industry standard technology and applications is a non-negotiable for all workers. There will be little patience for those who cannot or will not use basic software packages because they "don't like computers".
If you believe that your basic IT skills need attention, please do not delay. Get started today. Here are some FREE courses that you can start now:
The ideas presented in this blog post are accessible to everyone with a smart phone or a computer. The most important thing to do next is select one of the four skills sets above and start taking action today.