Skills for a 21st Century Career

Future of work

Virtual collaboration, trans-disciplinarity, new-media literacy and formatting a floppy disk. Which of these work skills is not like the other? Clearly, the last skill is relic of the past and will not be valued in a 21st century career. The first three, however, are part of a new set of skills that students will need to succeed in the future.

When considering the skills of the future, what are the trends we should be aware of?

  • Short Shelf Life. We know that skills will continue to have increasingly shorter shelf lives. For example, skills that graduates acquire after four years of college will soon have an expected shelf life of only five years.
  • Skill Specialization. We also know that demand for high end skills and specialized skills is increasing. In fact, the knowledge economy is creating a constant series of niche markets, ushering in an age of hyperspecialization.
  • Outsourcing Skills. We also know that some skills will disappear and be outsourced to other countries as part of globalization.

So what skills will today’s students need to be successful in the future?

The Institute for the Future, as part of a decade-long Future of Work project, has identified 10 skills needed for the jobs of the future:

1 Sense-making

2 Social intelligence

3 Novel and adaptive thinking

4 Cross-cultural competency

5 Computational thinking

6 New-media literacy

7 Trans-disciplinarity

8 Design mindset

9 Cognitive load management

10 Virtual collaboration

IFTF_FutureWorkSkillsSummary (1)

How can students integrate skill trends and knowledge of future skills in their career and major search?

  1. Align the results from psychometric tests with the skills of the future to find out which ones will be most important for the student’s unique value proposition (what you can offer a company).
  2. Map out opportunities to learn or develop skills of the future while studying. For example, working in project teams will help build virtual collaboration skills, while study abroad programs could help develop one’s cross cultural competency.
  3. Consider careers that will offer opportunities to develop and apply skills of the future.
  4. In the workforce, create a self-assessment to rate your current level of proficiency on the skills of the future. Look for opportunities to fill gaps and keep track of your development.

Given the likelihood that workplace skills will continue to evolve, it will become even more important to develop continuous learning habits. In fact, modern organisations will favour lifelong learners and will rely on them to fill leadership positions.

What other skills do you think will be important in 5 years? In 10 years? In 20?


  1. JPPsychology says:

    Bonus: In the link below, Sasha Dichter (Acumen) comments on Seth Godin’s internship requirements, saying that they are “must-have skills for the next century, no matter what line of business you think you’re in. ”

  2. WilliamLink says:

    wow, awesome article.Much thanks again. Really Great. Moonen

  3. uopecampus says:

    The ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills.

    • JPPsychology says:

      Thank you for commenting!

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