Workforce Knowledge & Skills

General Workforce Skills

The authors of Robot-Ready: Human + Skills for the Future of Work assert that workers in the future will need what they call “Human + Skills,” or skills that differentiate us from intelligent machines and make us “more human. The skills that will give us security in this robot future are the very capabilities that define us as human beings.”

They explain that

These are skills that enable learners to transfer their knowledge from domain to domain in the face of job obsolescence and to learn new skills in demand. Human skills are in high demand across many industries and include skills such as leadership, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, emotional intelligence, judgment, ethics, and cognitive flexibility.

A focus solely on human skills, however, is not enough; “It is the integration of human and technical skills that will provide the best preparation for the future of work.”

Indeed, most of the current literature on the future of work underscores this growing need for human skills such as flexibility, mental agility, ethics, resilience, systems thinking, communication, and critical thinking. Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun has devoted an entire book to the concept of “humanics”:

a new model of learning that enables learners to understand the highly technological world around them and that simultaneously allows them to transcend it by nurturing the mental and intellectual qualities that are unique to humans—namely their capacity for creativity and mental flexibility.

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Other studies come to similar conclusions. The article “The 10 Critical Job Skills of the Future” offers these ten general workforce skills[1]:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Also take a look at the infographic The 10 Most Important Work Skills in 2020, which highlights these skills and the reasoning behind them.

These are just a few of many sources you can find if you research current workforce skills.  Although current sources differ slightly in their lists of important workforce skills, they all emphasize abstract, cross-functional, and cross-disciplinary skills, citing the rapidly changing nature of work, the rise in automation with intelligent machine replacing human workers, and a longer human worklife resulting in many job changes, as reasons to focus on skills such as these.

In addition to emphasizing transferable skills, Robot-Ready also emphasizes a “both-and” approach, stating that human skills still need to be complemented with specific professional knowledge, be it knowledge of web design, marketing statistics, case management, or other field-specific knowledge:

Journalism and writing careers exemplify this…. Our analysis shows that liberal arts graduates gravitate toward fields like social media marketing and content management, journalism, digital marketing, media production, and technical writing. For any of these fields, a strong job candidate would need to demonstrate several more technical skills in information technology (IT), business, or design in addition to the core skills of writing and communication.

As an example, journalism is becoming almost an IT field with an increased need for skills and analytics capabilities like search engine optimization, JavaScript, CSS, HTML,  and Google analytics. At the same time, writing and journalism profiles underscore the need for strong business and marketing skills, including brand work, content development, market research, and advertising.

All of these fields demand IT skills, business skills (such as finance and marketing), and design skills. For those going into technical writing, candidates are now expected to be able to communicate software specifications fluently. They also need software development and project management skills (e.g. Scrum) while having some grasp of project planning, process improvement, and program management. In social media and digital marketing, liberal arts graduates use strong digital analytics skills as well as web design and web development skills. (pgs. 20-22)

As you plan your degree, consider current research on general workforce skills.  You might want to further assess your own skills in these areas and plan how to incorporate studies that support these competencies in your degree.

Specific Skills

Specific knowledge and skills are needed for particular professions.  For example, accountants and psychologists both need to understand statistics, since the professions use statistical information regularly.  Healthcare professionals in certain fields may need to understand health informatics, while professionals in the field of workforce training need to understand learning theories.

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Investigating specific knowledge and skills may be an important part of educational planning for you, if you’re designing a professionally-focused degree.  There are multiple questions to consider, as you plan your degree for entry into or advancement in a particular profession:

  • What particular knowledge does the profession expect college graduates in this field to have?
  • What specific skills are important in the profession?
  • In general, what specific education and training does it take to enter into the profession?
  • What sources of information do practitioners use to remain knowledgeable in their professions?

  1. Hendrick, Dave. "The 10 Critical Job Skills Of The Future, According to McKinsey's Global Chief Learning Officer." The Darden Report, 21 September 2017.