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These are the vital skills you’ll need to succeed in the workplaces of the future

The McKinsey Institute has defined a list of skills and attitudes needed for workers to thrive.
The McKinsey Institute has defined a list of skills and attitudes needed for workers to thrive. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Shannon McDonagh
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The world of work is being transformed by tech at a rapid pace - what abilities will you need to develop to stay one step ahead?


Digital technologies are transforming the way we work at a rapid pace.

It’s inevitable that some of the next decade’s most in-demand occupations are still in their developing stages, or yet to even exist.

A report commissioned by Dell anticipates that 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet.

Researchers are seeking to understand what this means for the skill-sets we’ve honed since our earliest stages of education. Will the skills developed by people who entered the workforce a decade ago still be relevant in the future? And how can we adapt if they aren’t?

People are worried about the potential obsolescence of their employment and what they can do to combat this. A study by the McKinsey Institute has identified over 50 "foundational skills" that will help people thrive in the future world of work.

Naturally, many of these ideas are rooted in the use of technology, but a surprising number of them encourage us to embrace our soft skills and add value to workplaces beyond the efficiencies of what artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms can offer.

Here are the top eight skills you’ll need to adjust to the future.

1. Coping with uncertainty

AP Photo
The offices of London's financial district are still in a period of recovery following three lockdownsAP Photo

Adaptability has always been a priority for businesses seeking top-quality staff. It’s important to know how to stay calm in the face of changing work environments and challenges, and the past 18 months have proven just how crucial this can be.

Though we can hope we’re nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses will be looking for people who used those unprecedented circumstances to their best advantage. People who were able to cope and not allow question marks lingering over the day-to-day work patterns to distract them from fulfillment on a personal and professional level.

Understandably, the nature of our global situation hasn’t always made this possible, and that’s okay. If you got through COVID-19, you can get through problems that evoke even a fraction of that uncertainty.

Whether you were part of an office of thousands acclimatising to home working, or a small team that collaborated internationally, there are little victories that will be recognised by your future employers for years to come.

2. Understanding biases

Much of the technology we use every day is built upon algorithmic or societal biases that are often unconscious - operating without the knowledge they are upholding harmful stereotypes.

Real-life examples of this include the US healthcare system, where researchers found that an algorithm used on more than 200 million hospital patients expressed a strong preference for providing extra medical care to white people over black people.

AI is constantly being used to identify how we can even the playing field, but this isn’t a fool-proof approach as it’s inherently part of the problem. Humans add value to this process in their everyday employment because they have an active understanding of these issues and can use compassion to change in a way that technology fails to.

By putting the work in to understand how these perceptions can creep into the things we make and use, you’re showing future employers that you’re aware of one of the biggest problems facing technology this century.


3. Digital fluency

Richard Drew/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press
Making the most of new technologies and understanding how to integrate themRichard Drew/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press

A no-brainer for masses of people seeking top jobs that pay well and are stimulating for our minds. So much so, McKinsey found digital prowess to show what we perceive as the strongest evidence of good quality education.

This doesn’t necessarily have to mean retraining in a tech-related field (though employment rates and salaries are consistently high) but making sure you’re able to navigate the digital programmes relevant to your field and using them to the best of your ability.

Most office work has required the use of digital programmes and information systems for decades now. But awareness of how to use information systems, how to collaborate digitally through cloud communication software such as GSuite and Slack, and literacy in computer programming are all ways you can stand out among a sea of people with limited, outdated digital know-how.

4. Self-awareness and self-management

Understanding where our strengths and weaknesses lie is a good way of knowing when to ask for help and knowing when to help others.


That way, your future boss is able to identify what you bring to your team. If something isn’t in your comfort zone, don’t over-promise and under-deliver. If an opportunity arises to dazzle people with your knowledge of a relevant subject area, you’ll be remembered for it.

The onus is ultimately on employers to implement this - the McKinsey report ties these skills to ideals like integrity, and understanding our emotions and boundaries. Employees need to be given the space to do this otherwise, which doesn’t happen without the right workplace culture.

5. Cybersecurity literacy

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Joe Biden has accused Chinese government operatives of hacking Microsoft's email serverAP Photo

This one goes hand in hand with a number of skills McKinsey cites as essentials, such as digital fluency. Our ability to use, search and create content using digital platforms helps us better understand the value of data and why it needs protecting.

Companies have an ethical and financial obligation to protect user data - it’s of increasing importance to legislators and erodes trust if it isn’t honoured. There’s a reason Amazon was fined €746 million for Europe’s largest GDPR data breach last year.


After all, data is absolutely everywhere, and we’re often signing it away through caches and cookies without acknowledging what this really means. Educating yourself on why it is important and what structures are in place that leave it vulnerable to creating harm will become increasingly relevant to a number of fields.

6. Synthesising different messages

Some workers undertaking daily research-intensive tasks end up feeling like their brain is experiencing an information overload.

Studies exploring "frightening levels of worker burnout," especially in Millenials, draw links between high levels of stress and anxiety and a culture where it is impossible to escape endless swathes of (often unreliable) messaging.

Being able to "synthesise" different messages as a way of displaying critical thinking and communication strengths is a growing desire for a lot of different industries. This means pulling contextual information you already know and pairing it with new ideas in order to draw similarities and differences.


It is a requirement of almost all jobs and will continue to do so as critical thinking becomes encouraged to combat detrimental levels of misinformation.

7. Entrepreneurship

Sonya Barlow, right, CEO of Like Minded Females Network, a social enterprise that helps young women set up businesses throughout COVID-19Canva

We’re living in an age where having a "side hustle" or two is actively encouraged by proponents of secondary incomes. It’s not always a particularly healthy approach, and one we don’t recommend (see millennial burnout featured in the above segment).

Instead, you should be looking to deploy entrepreneurial values in your main job as a way of standing out as someone who isn’t afraid to take risks, moving away from the idea that future jobs are going to require us to be mindless drones.

Exploring new ideas, breaking orthodoxies, and displaying genuine energy and passion are all ways of embodying this. Some of the biggest and most profitable successes in a start-up culture and wider technology have been down to people willing to rip the rule book and try something different.


Bumble saw a gap in the dating app experience for women and now turns over €310 million annually. Arrival was tired of London transport not doing enough to lower CO2 emission and have raised €367 million to combat this. The list goes on.

Depending on your profession, it might sound a little absurd, but think about it: each company built off the back of an exciting idea tends to go on to employ thousands of people who share that mindset.

8. Self-confidence

A strong sense of self-belief was placed by McKinsey among the top three desirable skills in roles that produce high incomes and job satisfaction. This is very much easier said than done - many of us don’t feel confident in our abilities because we’re in jobs that demotivate us or strain us into thinking we’re not the right fit.

One of the commonly cited positives of tech-integrated working is the proposal that it’ll make the more mundane and stressful aspects of our jobs easier. Using this logic, there will be leeway in the coming years for us to explore our careers in directions we hadn’t previously thought possible. If we’re willing to take those opportunities, that is.


Hewlett Packard revealed in 2014 that women tend to only apply for a job if they meet 100 per cent of the listed requirements, while men are happy to take a shot if they meet just over half.

"The statistic is a wake-up call that not everyone is playing the game that way," wrote Tara Sophia Moir of the Harvard Business Review.

In short - if you don’t go for the opportunity, someone else will. The job market isn’t getting any less crowded. Back yourself enough to want other people to do the same.

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