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The Top 4 Future of Work Skills

by | May 20, 2021

Before the start of the decade, employers talked about reskilling and upskilling employees as something that would happen in the future. They felt other priorities needed to be addressed. Today, that future of work is now, and the top skills that employees need fall into four categories:

  • Problem-solving
  • Self-management
  • Technology use 
  • Human interaction

These are universal skills that employees should possess, whether they are welders or cybersecurity professionals. Mastering these skills enables people to adapt to an ever-changing employment landscape. 


When we say problem-solving skills, we think of critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills, but solving problems requires more than rational thought. The best problem-solvers are innovative and creative. They think outside the box for solutions and then implement the appropriate action plan.

At the core of problem-solving is research. Critical thinking requires knowledge, facts, and data to find possible solutions. It’s difficult to fix a problem if you don’t know what it is. After the problem is defined, critical thinkers develop possible solutions and evaluate them to find the most appropriate answer. It’s the individual’s responsibility to implement the selected solution, usually with the help of others.

Effective problem-solving requires technical skills. For example, technology can help reduce research time. An artificial intelligent search engine can look through massive amounts of data and return relevant results within minutes. Employees using their problem-solving and technical skills can deliver better solutions more efficiently.

Problem-solving also requires people skills. As individuals try to solve problems, they need to interact with others, listen to what they have to say, and discuss possible solutions. Implementation requires communication, another skill that is needed for the future of work.


Self-management is new to the list of skills needed for future work. As employees are given more freedom and flexibility in their work environment, they become responsible for managing their work-life balance. To be effective self-managers, employees need to master the following skills:

  • Time Management. Managing time is essential to self-management. Without time management skills, employees miss deadlines, forget meetings, and lose focus. They let priority tasks slip.
  • Self Motivation. When individuals are self-motivated, they do not need outside factors to move forward on assignments. They have internal drivers that propel them to complete tasks.
  • Organization. This is more than a neat desk. Staying organized means structuring resources to improve productivity. That may involve scheduling, prioritizing tasks, or changing a physical space for maximum efficiency.
  • Stress Management. No job is without stress. Learning to manage it helps maintain a professional attitude at work and enables individuals to stay focused. Whether it is eating well or exercising more, people need to engage in activities to lessen stress.

Setting goals can help maintain focus and contribute to time management and organization. Employers should consider training to ensure that employees acquire self-management skills.

Technology use.

Using technology will be part of everyone’s future when it comes to working. Precisely what the technology of the future will look like is hard to predict. What employees need is a mindset that is open to learning new ways to accomplish old tasks and a willingness to explore emerging possibilities. Companies must also reflect that shift in their cultures. They must be willing to invest in employee improvement and to provide educational opportunities for growth.

When discussing technical skills, the focus always turns to specific training in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, or data analytics. These skills are unique to a given profession. Technology use as a future of work skill is not the technical skills to deliver the perfect weld or perform surgery, but the ability to use technology in an area of expertise. 

Take the welder. Today, computers control the welding current, welding voltage, wire electrode extension, and arc travel speed needed to deliver a strong weld. Before technology was introduced, the process was manual and depended on the welder’s ability and experience to deliver a quality weld. Being willing to learn the technology to deliver consistent quality is what is meant by this future of work skill.

Human interaction.

Human interaction skills focus on conflict resolution, communication, and negotiation. These skills are essential to a collaborative environment where individuals interact to solve problems. They are different from so-called people skills because they are centered on community.

Healthy conflict is needed for change to happen. People need to examine ideas to determine the best options. Unfortunately, people lose sight of the idea and focus on the people, which leads to dysfunctional conflict. That’s why conflict resolution is a critical future of work skill. With more varied work environments, identifying potential conflicts and resolving them without damaging the work environment becomes more crucial. 

Like children, adults were superb negotiators. How else did we end up with an all cookie lunch? Children inherently understand that negotiation means everyone gets something they want, but no one gets everything. Yet, as adults, we often take an all-or-nothing approach. Negotiating requires listening and confirming what is of value to all parties before working towards a solution that everyone is willing to accept.

Communication has always been a critical skill for any workforce. With more remote workers, clear communication— both written and verbal—becomes a top priority. Some team members may never meet in person. Others may only know a co-worker because of weekly Zoom meetings. With limited interactions, it’s difficult for people to know if a comment was to be taken seriously. 

Future of work skills.

Underlying all growth opportunities for future of work skills is the need for life-long learning. Whether it is problem-solving or self-management, people must be willing to continually explore ways to improve. They must be open to learning new technologies to assist in workplace improvements and innovations. And everyone needs to work on perfecting their ability to have positive human interaction to maintain a productive workspace.