According to Managing Talent (Economist Books, 2014) four broad skill areas will be in greatest demand over the next ten years, says Oxford Economics and Towers Watson, a global professional services firm. Based on a worldwide survey of 352 human resources managers in the first quarter of 2012 and a modelling exercise involving 46 countries and 21 industry sectors, employers will place a premium on the following:
The fast-growing digital economy is increasing the demand for highly skilled technical workers. Companies are looking for staff with social-media-based skills, especially in “digital expression” and marketing literacy. Digital business skills are rated as crucial, particularly in Asia-Pacific, where e-commerce is expanding rapidly as the result of a “new digital technology war” among firms.
In a period of sustained uncertainty, where economic, political and market conditions can change suddenly, agile thinking and scenario planning are vital. Those respondents from industries with high levels of regulatory and environmental uncertainty, such as life sciences and energy and mining, highlighted the importance of agile thinking. Respondents said that the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is especially important. HR managers also put a high premium on innovative thinking, dealing with complexity and managing paradox.
Interpersonal and communication skills
Overall, HR managers predict that co-creativity (collaborating with others) and brainstorming skills will be greatly in demand, as will relationship building and teamwork skills. Oxford Economics points out that this reflects the continued corporate shift from a “command-and-control organisation to a more fluid and collaborative style”. As companies move to a “networked” corporate world, relationships with suppliers, outsourcing partners and even customers will become more dispersed and more complex. It will take skill to manage these networks and build consensus and collaboration with network partners.
Global operating skills
The ability to manage diverse employees is seen as the most important global operating skill over the next 5–10 years. In the United States, the top global operating skill was understanding international business. According to Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, employees need skills in both “glocalisation” (where home-market products and services are tailored to the tastes of overseas customers) and reverse innovation (where staff in emerging markets lead innovation and then the company applies these new ideas to mature markets).
Demand for more advanced skills
Part of the problem for organisations and employees is that new and increased skills are required in the workplace. As economies move from being product-based to being knowledge-based, the number of specialist jobs increases. It's hard for employers and educational providers to anticipate these changes. By 2020, the European Centre for Vocational Training predicts that 81% of all jobs in the EU will require “medium and high level qualifications” because of the continuing shift towards knowledge-intensive activities.
Firms operating in knowledge-intensive industries depend on their most capable staff to help create value through intangible assets such as patents, licences and technical know-how. This is asking a lot. To operate at this level, many people need not just specialist knowledge or technical skills, but also higher cognitive skills to equip them to handle the intricacies of decision-making and change.
The twin forces of globalisation and technology have also led economies across the world to become more entwined, adding to the complexity of many jobs and occupations. Firms are now looking for individuals with a range of abilities that might include specialised skills, broader functional skills, industry expertise and knowledge of specific geographical markets.
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