The meaning of the phrase skills of the future is variable. Like so many other terms in our profession, its definition depends on who you ask.
According to my own heuristic, a “skill of the future” is a capability for which demand will grow disproportionately over the next 5 years. (While the future extends beyond this timeframe, I typically see any crystal balling for it too fantastical to be useful.)
And to be scalable from an organisational development perspective, the skill needs to be transferable across roles and leadership levels, so that it’s applicable to the context in which each individual works.
The why for investing in skills of the future should be self-evident post Covid. Organisations that neglected basic capabilities such as web conferencing, let alone more complex ones such as remote leadership, found themselves scrambling in the wake of the pandemic.
In contrast, organisations that had already invested in such skills and were using them day to day, experienced a relatively straight-forward transition into lockdown. Moreover they found themselves with a competitive edge, after years of reaping the benefits of the skills on their own merits.
Herein lies the main point of this post: skills of the future aren’t so much about preparing for tomorrow as they are about maximising today. Waiting for the moment when an imagined skill will meet an imagined need misses that point.
Let me return to the pre-Covid environment to elaborate. An organisation that trained its people face-to-face in the classroom may very well have recognised the future need for virtual training. But since the future hadn’t arrived yet, they had no reason to challenge the status quo. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In contrast, another organisation that also trained its people in the classroom started to diversify its approach by offering some of its training virtually. This new delivery option supported a remote working strategy, which improved employee engagement and scaled up their talent pool from local to national. The company’s smooth transition into lockdown was simply the latest win.
This mindset also applies to those uber sexy skills that seem so out of reach. For example, if data science is an aspiration, start by collecting whatever numbers you can get your hands on and analyse them however basically to inform your decision making now; and if artificial intelligence is intimidating, start by creating something simple like a branched online form to help your colleagues self-service their needs now. Your sophistication in these areas will improve over time while you ground yourself in the fundamental concepts and crystallise new opportunities to pursue.
Which leads me to the supplementary point of this post: skills of the future are a source of power. If you’re the one backing up your proposals with quantitative evidence, they’re more likely to be approved; and if you’re the one meeting the real needs of your end users, you’re more likely to receive positive appraisals from them.
And if Jim (my colleague in Double defence) didn’t like the idea of click-next online courses, he could have used his development skills to build them differently. Furthermore, he could have proved a blended solution by which the e-learning was complemented by a flipped class that drew upon his facilitation prowess.
But he did neither, and so for him the future arrived too soon.
You however have the opportunity to future proof your own career, by making the skills of the future your skills of the present.