As the world of work rapidly changes, many in the workforce are clueless about the skills that employers require of their workforce. Do people keep up with technology or do they go and learn a new trade? Educating ourselves in the right way has never been more crucial! 


Amidst all this confusion, we dug deep and found that employees have pointed to soft skills, such as critical thinking, attention to detail and writing proficiency, as key differentiators.


joint report by financial services group J P Morgan and the Singapore Management University pointed out that there is a lack of emphasis on teaching soft skills in the five key members of ASEAN - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines— resulting in a skills challenge that impedes their economic growth.


We also came across research by PayScale which said that 60 per cent of the nearly 64,000 managers they surveyed felt that critical thinking, or problem-solving, was the soft skills they felt was most lacking in today’s graduates in the US.


And why are soft skills important? Because machines don’t have them.

To stay relevant in an increasingly digitised world, we should not attempt to outdo the robots. We need to do what they can’t. 


So why does today’s graduates lack these soft skills? 

One of the most-cited reasons we found was that millennials are too dependent on technology. It’s a somewhat unsurprising conclusion—just look at what’s going on at cafes and restaurants around the world where many diners aren’t sharing a conversation with their friends or families while enjoying their meals—they’re using their phones, most probably surfing social media. It’s ironic, isn’t it? 


Bottomline: Social media has made us less social.


Degrees Vs. Abilities

Degrees are also no longer as coveted by employers as before. We came across an article in The Economist saying that only 10 per cent of Americans had a bachelor’s degree in 1970.


These days, about thirty per cent do, meaning that these certifications are no longer an effective advantage for graduates today. Major corporations have already realised that a degree is essentially nothing more than a gauge for book smartness and that it is not an accurate measure of one’s abilities in this digital age. In the same article, John Van Reenen, who was then the director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to judge job applicants by their resumes because the rise of automation has resulted in graduate jobs having more varied responsibilities and lesser routine tasks.


Would you be willing to be saddled in debt to learn skills that are not aligned with current market demands and get a piece of paper that is becoming increasingly worthless? We think not! 

So what do we do? 

“Forty years ago, you didn’t need advanced critical thinking skills to earn a good living on an assembly line. But in today’s knowledge-based economy, critical thinking skills are at a premium: according to a survey of chief human resources and strategy officers by the World Economic Forum, by 2020, complex problem solving and critical thinking will be the top two skills workers need.” - Frank Connolly, senior editor at MindEdge


This goes to show that we need to work towards building some of these skills so that we have relevance and market value in the future. More than anything else, these skills are not just useful to build a career, but are essential for great quality of life too! While traditional education may not focus on these primarily, we can easily upskill ourselves using alternative sources of education and skill-building.

To begin with, here are three skills that employers look out for in every candidate:


Collaboration

No matter how skilled one is, the most important trait is to be able to apply it as part of a team. Employers highly regard the ability to collaborate and share ideas and work with a team. Whether as a leader or as a part of those being lead, employees who fit in and add a lot of value to a team are greatly regarded. 


Adaptability

Technology is changing and will probably change over and again in the future. So, while some of those technical skills may still hold some value, the important trait to have is the spirit of lifelong learning. How does this help? An outlook of curiosity helps us stay adaptable and updated. It builds the ability to think laterally and solve problems with creativity. This makes us good generalists who can then learn the specific skills required to tackle a problem. This is something that employees greatly value as a skill. 


Communication

We have realised that having great ideas is useless if you cannot communicate with your audience through good writing that can motivate, inspire and spur people to act. Good writing also makes communication between colleagues more effective. Bad writing, on the other hand, can be that sucker punch your business doesn’t need. As such, writing good copy that clearly articulates a company’s vision and products will become as important as writing code in the future.


What is more important to employers in this day and age is finding a candidate with the required set of skills over their degrees. So the more you arm yourself with these future relevant skills, the more you can improve your employability. 

Research by: Alywin Chew

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This article is the second in our 3-part series on 'The Future of Education' commemorating the International Day of Education that falls on January 24. Read the first part on Disruption in Education, and the third part on Changing The Way We Learn.


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May 28, 2020