This is a 2-part article exploring the future skills needed to thrive in tomorrow’s world of work. It examines what skills, qualities and attitudes are needed for success, who is responsible for continual personal and professional development, the employee or employer, and shares examples of best practice by leading companies. This is part 2 focusing on what skills, qualities and attitudes are needed to succeed in the future world of work.

Read part 1 of this 2-part article about what skills are needed in the future.


The technological or digital age in which we now live, has the potential to disrupt entire industries and cause massive job losses. For example, imagine the impact of driverless cars on the taxi market.

In this age, right skilling is required – retraining your existing workforce and acquiring new people with the future skills to fill any gaps. Technology skills from basic data literacy to artificial intelligence is a common gap for mid-career workers.

Providing millennials with opportunities to work on different projects and work in different teams will enable them to build a portfolio of skills and experiences, and prevent them having to move to a different employer to do so, saving recruitment and management training time and money.

In a PwC CEO survey, 38% of CEOs globally said that they were extremely concerned about the availability of key skills as a threat to business growth. The World Economic Forum predicts that a third of the desired skill sets of most occupations will change by 2020. Mid-career upskilling therefore needs to be a critical focus for both organisations and individuals. Learning needs to be individualised. ‘One size fits all’ no longer fits, if it ever did.  

The skills college graduates acquire during a bachelor degree that used to provide enough basic training to last a career, now have an expected shelf life of only five years.

“On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired skill sets for most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.”  

The World Economic Forum report showed that in the US, only 63% of workers said that they had participated in job-related training in the last 12 months. Paradoxically, employers are reporting the worst talent shortages since 2007.  

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, relearn and unlearn.” Alvin Toffler, American Writer and Futurist. 

Change in demand for core work-related skills, 2015-2020 all industries.

Source:  Future of Jobs Survey , World Economic Forum.

Source: Future of Jobs Survey, World Economic Forum.

Who is responsible for personal and professional development, employee/individual or employer?

Individuals need to take responsibility for their own skills development because it directly affects their own marketability. Keeping skills current helps an individual to feel confident about what they have to offer, be open to new projects, work more expediently, increase their marketability and appeal to future employers.

How to begin acquiring future skills as a child

At a young age, additional activities to school lessons, such as play, drama, scouts, guides, Duke of Edinburgh, sport, playing an instrument in an orchestra, singing in a choir and taking part in a summer camp, are all useful ways for children to develop skills, qualities and a constructive attitude for business and good relationships in all contexts.  

Giving young people meaningful encounters and exposure to business in school will inspire them, build their confidence and skills and open up more horizons about what is possible.  In the UK, schools are measured on GCSE results, not future employability.  

Ideas to fill the skills gap

Retraining and the development of new skills for older workers will be critical with reverse mentoring essential to help older workers learn digital skills from their younger workers.  

Some organisations have introduced apprenticeships for older workers, originally the preserve of younger workers.  

Developing competent and loyal candidates for specific business critical roles makes business sense. Sponsoring a student’s higher education or offering a fast track training programme could appeal to millennials.    

Thinking out of the box and fishing in stagnant talent pools for skilled workers in countries where there is high unemployment such as Greece, Italy and Spain could make a lot of sense.  

How to understand CPD needs

By understanding the future capabilities and skills required by doing team assessments, analysis can take place to find out what percentage of existing employees have the skills and what percentage need to be reskilled.  

‘Grow your own’ talent

Skill shortages in business-critical areas such as tech, could have a serious impact on organisations’ ability to compete, so ‘grow your own’ talent can be a wise approach for organisations to ensure that they have workers with the right skills, qualities and attitudes. Giving young people apprenticeships rather than recruiting university graduates is one way to achieve this.  With a skills shortage, organisations can help employees to develop the skills they need by providing boot camps and other learning programmes to develop home-grown talent.  

A heightened focus on work-based training – enabling workers to ‘earn while they learn’. Organisations need to take a more sustainable approach and use training to reduce skills gaps from within and reduce investment in recruitment and paying inflated salaries where there is a shortage of talent.  Better training and development will result in a more agile, loyal, motivated and productive workforce. Creating experiential learning opportunities e.g. apprenticeships, internships and work-based degrees and certifications which allow workers to upgrade or reinvent their skill set whilst maintaining employment makes sense.


Millennials see ongoing skills development as an important part of their future careers. They want lifelong learning and the opportunity to learn new skills is a top factor when considering a new job. 22% of Millennials intend to take an extended break from work to gain new skills and qualifications. Training and development is the benefit that millennials value most highly, especially coaching and mentoring, and particularly in the first five years of their career.  

According to the Manpower Group report ‘Millennial Careers: 2020 vision’, 21% of men and 23% of women millennials plan to take a break to return to education and gain new skills. To reach the next level up in their career, 46% of millennials believe that they need to improve their skills and qualifications and 35% that they need to gain more experience through new roles or assignments.  

The gig economy/outsourcing

As freelancing becomes more mainstream, organisations are struggling to classify casual employees. About 20% of organisations are expected to outsource work to self-employed providers by 2020 in order to cut costs and achieve their growth projections. Self-employed workers need to take responsibility for their own marketability and invest in ensuring that their skills and knowledge are kept up to date and fit for purpose.  Putting aside a % of earnings to reinvest in education and training is a wise decision for self-employed workers to future-proof their career.  

On-line learning for a dispersed workforce

Learning and development is evolving fast with Learning Management Systems (LMS) growing in popularity because staff can log on when it is convenient for them, tailor their CPD and track their progress. Face to face trainings are expensive and the time to organise them and take staff out of the business can be prohibitive. For international companies operating across different time zones, on-line learning portals are an essential choice. Self-directed and micro learning are on the increase. Bite sized learning, with resources that are short, to the point and engaging and accessible from SMART phones is a fast-growing area.  

Many universities are now offering free Moocs – on-line courses, for example in critical thinking – one of the key skills needed in future. Read Future skills, part 1.

Employer examples in brief

Click here to view the full list of employer examples.

Case studies

Click here to view the full list of case studies.


16 practical tips for individuals

Click here to view the list of practical tips.

10 self-reflective questions for individuals

Click here to view the list of self-reflective questions.

21 practical cost-effective ways to build future skills for individuals

Improving skills for individuals does not have to cost a lot of money, nor take a lot of time.

Click here for the list of options.


8 self-reflective questions for organisations

Click here to view the list of self-reflecting questions.

Skills assessment audit - organisations

Click here to view the steps.

Job mobility, retraining and job rotation can be an effective way of refreshing skills. Job redesign is worth considering, especially if you have high retention with employees staying with your organisation out of fear of moving employers in uncertain times.

Summary and conclusions

A career may now last for sixty years. With skill obsolescence happening faster, individuals need to continually learn, unlearn and relearn.  Both individuals and employers need to take responsibility for ensuring that they have skills fit for purpose for the future world of work. In the digital age and with the pace of change accelerating, more attention needs to be given to ensuring that skills do not reach their expiry date, or companies and countries may experience skills obsolescence and risk losing their competitive advantage on the world’s stage.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the ones most adaptable to change.”  Charles Darwin.  

Education and work as two separate phases in people’s lives is a thing of the past. Individuals need to adopt a continuous learning mindset and proactively engage in reskilling and upskilling themselves.  

Organisations must invest in providing the required training and development opportunities for their staff, but the key to sustainable career success lies with the individual themselves.  

Individuals need to take charge of their own futures, starting today and take steps to acquire the skills they will need in five years’ time. Combining critical thinking with initiative, problem solving, creativity, productivity, resilience and good interpersonal skills including empathy and high emotional intelligence, will make an individual very marketable indeed.  

With a skills shortage, magnified by Brexit uncertainty, ensuring working mothers are supported to return to the workplace, mid-career workers have their skills refreshed and enabling older workers to reduce their hours pre-retirement makes good business sense.

By Rachel Brushfield, Talent Liberator at Energise