As we stand on the brink of a swiftly approaching future, a transformation in the future of work beckons. According to the World Economic Forum, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines by 2025, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans and machines.
In light of the anticipated widespread changes, there is a pressing need to proactively develop future skills. Through my podcast series, “You in 2042: The Future of Work,” I’ve had the privilege of engaging with industry thought leaders and visionaries over the years. Their insights have shed light on the skills that will be vital in 2042 and beyond and they reflect the blend of technology and societal shifts that are reshaping the workforce.
The speakers all emphasize the significance of cultivating these competencies in the present and, interestingly, they all predict consistent future skills along the following five themes.
1. Empathy in a Technically Advanced Future
Empathy was consistently the top skill that thought leaders discussed as it influences how people collaborate, innovate and respond to the evolving dynamics of a technologically augmented world. In a workplace that’s more connected yet, paradoxically, more isolated due to an excess of digital interfaces, it will be important for individuals to understand others’ feelings and perspectives.
As industries further globalize, the ability to relate to different viewpoints and emotions will be a cornerstone of collaboration and innovation. The intricate fabric of the modern workplace is increasingly woven with global threads, necessitating understanding and collaboration. The ability to walk in the shoes of others — to understand their perspectives, emotions and needs — will be the cornerstone of effective collaboration.
Besides empathy at the individual level, the transformation of work also requires leaders who can resonate with the experiences and aspirations of their teams. As teams become more distributed and remote, the skill of empathy becomes the glue that binds individuals across virtual realms. The resonance of empathetic leaders fosters trust, engagement and a shared sense of purpose, nurturing an environment conducive to ideation and innovation.
I believe that the digital era does not eclipse the human aspect; rather, it magnifies its importance. Amidst algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI), the authenticity of human interaction, amplified by empathy, becomes a unique differentiator. Clients, customers and colleagues alike gravitate toward those who understand their nuanced needs and emotions. Those with empathy are able to forge lasting relationships and achieve results.
2. Interpersonal Skills in an Age of Technology
Besides empathy, interpersonal skills emerge as highly prized traits. The aptitude for building rapid relationships, cultivating trust, managing conflicts effectively and presenting ideas convincingly yet respectfully becomes indispensable.
As technology continues its relentless advancement, the value of “human” attributes intertwined with machine-irreplicable abilities becomes evident. I look to my pre-teen kids and it’s clear that while they have technological prowess, they can’t rely on machines to genuinely connect with people, resolve conflict or clearly verbally articulate their ideas. There are some traditional skills that will become obsolete, but nothing will replace the organic experience of acquiring and using these human skills.
Those with strong interpersonal skills can enhance teamwork and better contribute alongside digital and human co-workers. These skills foster a positive work environment, aiding in navigating diverse perspectives and forging connections that contribute to personal growth and overall success.
These skills stand as the very foundation of what technology lacks. I see these as future skill deficits; they are attributes those now in the workforce take for granted but as we look into a landscape where automation and artificial intelligence flourish, the capability of future workers to engage with others via authentic relationships will be in demand.
3. Applied Critical Thinking
In a complex future landscape, analyzing situations from various angles and finding practical solutions is invaluable. The ability to question assumptions, merge information and foresee consequences will set apart those who flourish in the future workplace. Critical thinking in the future means the difference between accurate and informed decision making versus an overreliance and blind adherence to insights from algorithms without an additional judgment check.
Critical thinking extends beyond conventional problem-solving, enabling people to identify patterns and navigate uncertain scenarios adeptly. With the current use of generative AI (e.g., ChatGPT, Bard, Synthesia), it’s apparent that being able to discern biases and inaccuracies is useful. Our future workplace has multifaceted challenges and critical thinking will help people adapt to the swiftly changing landscape.
4. Technical Adaptability Is Key
Because the technology is always changing, it demands skills that help us handle new ideas, information and ways of doing business. This is where the skill of technical adaptability comes in.
Machines, once confined to specific tasks, are now surpassing boundaries and accomplishing duties formerly undertaken by humans. This culminates in the need for people to be comfortable working seamlessly with technology and to adapt to continuous technological changes.
The push for more automation at work means that people and technology will need to work together more than ever. Irrespective of whether employees are engaged in technical positions or not, the seamless integration of technology means that there is no room for workers to “pause” and learn the technical basics of a new system. Instead, the workforce is expected to have a state of technical fluency, swiftly grasping new technology with minimal acclimatization. I see this skill amplified even beyond what is expected today as the labor force shifts and brings additional technical intuition with them. The increasing use of pervasive smart machines highlights the need of nurturing technical fluidity.
5. Capacity to Navigate Uncertainty Is Vital
The future work landscape will be marked by swift changes, unpredictability and high-pressure scenarios. So those who can manage stress, keep a balanced mindset and swiftly oscillate between calm and action will be an asset to their teams. This flexibility is crucial for effective decision-making, as time is often limited when facing ambiguity. The capability to seamlessly shift from considering options to executing strategic plans is what will sets resilient leaders and employees apart from their peers.
However, fostering these qualities also falls upon the organization. Supporting employees in their journey to become resilient and adaptable to change is vital. Providing resources for stress management, offering opportunities for skill development and cultivating a work culture that values balance and agility are crucial steps.
As we embark on this journey, the onus lies on us to equip ourselves and our organizations with these skills. We should cultivate these predominantly soft skills not as a secondary characteristic, but as a fundamental proficiency of human skills.
The workforce of 2042 will demand a skill set beyond the workforce’s skills today. My podcast’s dialogues with industry leaders highlight the importance of empathy, critical thinking, interpersonal connections, technical adaptability and stress resilience. These skills will guide the workforce toward success in an ever-evolving environment. With technology and society propelling us forward, cultivating these skills will be essential for navigating the new world of work.