When looking to progress your career, it can be difficult to discern which skills companies are prioritising and what makes one candidate stand out over another to HR professionals and recruiters. In 2020, this became even more difficult, with COVID-19 drastically changing the way organistions worked and placing more emphasis on skills and knowledge that wasn’t relevant five or even two years ago. For those looking to set new professional goals as we move towards 2021, whether that be taking on a bigger project, starting a new job, or leading a new team, we have outlined the key skills that are currently considered most desirable by employers- as identified by the most recent Linkedin Learning data. These skills reflect the state of change the global workforce is currently in and harnessing them will be crucial in both individual employees and organisations' growth.
In January, Linkedin Learning used the data from their network of over 660+ million professionals and 20+ million jobs to reveal the most in-demand skills for 2020. Of course, Linkedin Learning couldn’t have predicted the way the rest of the year would unfold and the significant impact it would have on the job market, however, many of the skills Linkedin initially listed have become especially relevant to the new era of work; a sign of the change and upheaval that was to come.
The most in-demand skills according to Linkedin Learning data are as follows:
Some of the ‘hard’ skills (teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to qualify) that make Linkedin Learning’s list like Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and UX Design are quite niche and won’t be applicable or relevant to the majority of professionals looking for new opportunities. However, other skills that made the list will be considered desirable across a number of industries over the next year, particularly cloud computing and analytical reasoning.
It seems every second person is talking about the importance of ‘the cloud’ but what does cloud computing actually mean and why is it relevant to today’s workforce? According to Salesforce, cloud computing is a form of outsourcing software, data storage and processing. Information and programs are hosted by outside parties and reside on a global network of secure data centers instead of on a user’s hard drive; which allows that user to access the information from anywhere as long as they have an internet connection. It also frees up processing power and facilitates sharing and collaboration as anyone can access a shared program and make changes in real time from different locations. Cloud computing has become revolutionary for businesses as it's flexible and scalable, cost-effective and accessible from anywhere – a trait that has never been more important than when the majority of the world’s workforce had to transition to remote work. Over the year work teams have had to continue projects and work towards deadlines while being physically separated, and consequently have had to rely on cloud-based software more than ever before. Despite COVID-19 restrictions having lifted since the first lockdown in late March, many organisations have announced that they’ll be working from home for the rest of the year, while others have adjusted their flexible working schemes to make working from home a long-term option. This means the dependence of cloud computing is only going to grow in years to come.
Consequently, being literate in all the different forms of cloud computing is becoming a key skill that organisations value within their current and potential employees. For those looking to learn more about cloud computing, Salesforce argue it can be split into three categories:
Software as a Service (SaaS): SaaS is the most common type of cloud computing and delivers complete, user-ready applications over the internet. Some examples of SaaS are Dropbox, Zendesk and Slack.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): IaaS is the most open-ended type of cloud service that requires a third party to host elements of infrastructure such as hardware, servers, firewalls and storage capacity. IaaS makes it possible for tech-savvy businesses to rent enterprise-grade IT resources and infrastructure to keep pace with growth, without requiring large capital investments. Examples of IaaS can be Amazon Web Services, Google Computer Engine and Google Compute Engine.
Platform as a Service (PaaS): PaaS provides the building blocks for software creation, including development tools, code libraries, servers, programming environments and preconfigured app components. With PaaS, the vendor takes care of back-end concerns as security, infrastructure and data integration so users can focus on building, hosting, and testing apps faster.
Analytical skills are considered the traits and abilities that allow you to observe, research and interpret a subject in order to develop complex ideas and solutions. They play an important role within all levels of the workplace because they allow you to find solutions to common problems and make informed decisions about what actions to take next. Although not all aspects of analytical thinking are classed as ‘hard’ skills there are many facets that candidates can easily develop through formal and informal training, such as interpreting data and information sets (like graphs, statistics, reports) and research.
While analytical thinking is nothing new, the importance it plays within the workforce has been highlighted during the pandemic. So many organisations across the globe have had to dramatically shift the way they operate due to covid restrictions; offices have had to figure out how to migrate their whole staff to working-from-home, restaurants have had to develop new ways to provide their services to customers and essential workers have had to determine how they could continue to work while remaining safe and socially distanced. Suddenly workers were faced with unprecedented hurdles and obstacles, which required a high-level of analytical thinking and problem solving to successfully survive and endure this economic uncertainty. As organisations across the globe continue to navigate through these uncharted waters and look for new opportunities to grow, being able to confidently analyse and address problems is going to be increasingly important and valued by organisations.
What are soft skills?
While hard skills refer to the specific knowledge and capabilities required to perform a particular task, soft skills are harder to quantify and measure. They are defined as the qualities, behaviours and attributes needed to succeed in the workplace and include traits like interpersonal skills, teamwork, time management and productivity. Ironically, in an era of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), being ‘tech savvy’ comes second to possessing soft skills. In fact, in their 2019 Global Talent Trends report, Linkedin Learning found that 91% of talent professionals believe soft skills are vital to the future of work. There is such a big emphasis placed on soft skills for a number of reasons. The first is that while technology innovation (like AI) is gradually replacing tasks that humans once did, these advancements can’t replace or mimic soft skills. Companies cannot replicate traits like creativity, empathy or adaptability with technology and consequently will always need people to apply these attributes within their decision making.
The second reason, which has become increasingly apparent since the pandemic, is that soft skills are transferable. While hard skills relate specifically to one job or industry, skills like collaboration or emotional intelligence are considered core competencies and are required in all jobs that are available today and tomorrow. Possessing and being able to effectively demonstrate these soft skills, has now become an incredible advantage for any job-seeker, as COVID-19 has temporarily limited the growth of a number of industries, leaving many professionals forced to look for jobs outside their chosen vocation. Career expert and psychologist Suzie Plush argues, “As much as it’s great to be on top of technology, you really need those human-based skills; emotional intelligence, adaptability, creativity - to have more opportunities in the future.”
These soft skills are also especially important within local and state government where opportunities to work and collaborate with different stakeholders and across different departments happen daily. Consequently, developing the soft skills that can be applied to a number of tasks and roles can only make a candidate more attractive to prospective employers with local councils and government organisations.
The particular soft skills, experts believe will be most in-demand for 2020 are:
Within the workforce, and especially within the public sector, collaboration is a necessity and the Huffington Post agrees, claiming that collaborative environments are at the core of the modern workplace. Collaboration is defined as a cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties work jointly towards a common goal; essentially teamwork which is taken to a higher level. It plays an important role in organisation’s because firstly, it’s a more productive way of completing tasks or goals as colleagues working together leads to an enhanced problem-solving process. Like the old adage ‘two heads are better than one’, when you have a collection of people coming together to solve a problem, each with their own unique perspective, knowledge and experiences, it becomes much easier to find a resolution. Collaboration also allows workers to learn from each other and expand their knowledge, which benefits the organisation overall. Because collaboration is such an integral part of the way businesses’ operate, having the necessary skills that allow for working in a team and collaborating with others is paramount- pandemic or not. Being able to showcase to organisations that you can communicate well with others, listen effectively and cooperate and share ideas, reveal your ability to effectively collaborate; something that is a highly desirable trait for jobseekers.
Persuasion is the process of convincing someone else to carry out an action or agree with an idea and offer their support. Within a business context, leaders and hiring managers value individuals who can explain the “why”. Effectively selling or convincing colleagues of ‘why’ actions need to be taken, helps to create and sell products & services, recruit team members and ultimately increase productivity. Someone with strong persuasive skills can also encourage others to perform well and facilitate group-decision making. It’s also important to clarify the difference between persuasion and manipulation. While manipulation is a one-sided transaction where the individual only focuses on what’s good for them, persuasion aims to be mutually beneficial. Someone who is highly persuasive will be able to carefully consider the other person’s wants, needs, desires and goals and cater towards them to come to a win-win conclusion, which is highly desirable when dealing with any negotiations with colleagues and an organisation’s key stakeholders.
Because the public sector revolves around so many different stakeholders- the greater community, clients, the government etc.- being able to persuade and motivate others to support and get involved with the organisation in question, again is a highly desirable trait for many organisations- pandemic or not.
Creativity is defined as the use of imagination and original ideas to create something, either tangible like a new dress or intangible like a new scientific theory. For the last five years, creativity has been predicted as the most sought-after skill for future jobs, according to research by the UK Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC). Linkedin also listed creativity as the number one in-demand soft skill for the year, arguing that organisations need people who can approach problems and tasks across all business roles with out-of-the-box thinking, in order to help identify new ways for those organisations to grow.
When the Adobe State of Create report was conducted throughout Europe, the US and Japan in 2016, it found that 73% of respondents found investing in creativity a key contributor to greater financial success, while 78% of respondents believed it made for a better customer experience and 79% of respondents believed it allowed their business to remain competitive within the market. This makes sense when you think of some the most successful global companies to date; Google, Apple, Netflix, Amazon. All of these companies have placed a significant emphasis on innovation and creativity within their business model and are always striving to bring something new and different to the market. Certainly, as the world braces itself for an impending recession, the ability to create and present new ideas has become paramount. As companies forge forward, the ability to look at the changing market from a different angle and come up with ‘creative’ solutions will be essential for future growth.
Defined as the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions, adaptability has been listed as one of the top in-demand soft skills for the second year in a row by Linkedin- although it has certainly held more gravitas in the second half of 2020. Global pandemics aside, we know that the only constant in life and in business is change. To remain competitive as a business, you need to be able to embrace change and a sure-fire way to do this, is through ensuring you know how to adapt. The Linkedin 2019 Global Trends report found that employees who thrive in a dynamic environment and bounce back quickly in the face of challenges, were able to perform better in their roles. A separate study by Frontiers In Psychology, also found that when asking managers on why they had granted particular employees promotions over the course of five years, 45% of respondents listed ‘adaptability’ and being able to pivot their behaviours, as a key reason. Being adaptable and resilient to change is an essential component of moving forward, and thus highly valued for businesses trying to navigate themselves towards a post-pandemic recovery.
Finally, the newest addition to the most in-demand soft skills for 2020 list according to Linkedin is Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and it is arguably the ‘godfather’ of soft skills, encompassing many of the traits listed above. EQ refers to your ability to notice your own emotions, and the emotions of others, and using them to manage and guide your thinking and behaviour. Professionals can rely on their EQ to deal with the variety of personalities and challenging situations they encounter at work and research has indicated that when employees take emotions into account, they make better decisions, communicate more diplomatically and resolve issues faster, regardless of who or what comes their way. For example, a study at PepsiCo found that company units headed by managers with well-developed EQ skills out-performed in their yearly revenue targets by 15-20%. Meanwhile a study conducted by Norwich University found that when comparing managers considered ‘outstanding’ by their cohort with those considered ‘average’, 90% of the difference was accounted for by EQ.
Given that so many have been through so much in the past few months, having emotional intelligence is worth its weight in gold – not just for managers, but staff at all levels. This belief has been corroborated by the online course ‘Developing Your Emotional Intelligence’ which during lockdown became one of Linkedin’s top 20 most popular online courses for the year.
How Do you Develop These Skills?
The good news is that e-learning has made developing and discovering skills and competencies more accessible. According to a recent Linkedin Learning report, there was a significant spike – 130% increase- in the amount of time employees globally, spent learning on the Linkedin Learning platform. That’s an additional 4.8M hours- equal to 454 years- of learning since the pandemic was declared on March 11. Linkedin learning offers over 16,000 online courses taught by real-world professionals, many of which focus on the in-demand skills listed in their 2020 global learning reports. But Linkedin isn’t the only option for online learning. During the pandemic Universities, tafe’s and training providers across Australia offered numerous short courses that could be completed online and were heavily discounted as part of the Federal Government’s coronavirus relief package.
In addition to online learning options, experts also recommend observing professionals and colleagues around you, especially when trying to hone a soft skill like creativity or emotional intelligence as these are steeped in a person’s behaviour. Things like completing tasks efficiently, interacting well with others or leading a team requires many soft skills, so being able to observe how your manager or coworkers do this and taking note of their actions, can be a great learning process for the individual. It’s also a great way to see soft skills in action, rather than reading about them from a textbook or course material.
Finally, experts recommend jobseekers or employees looking to develop their skills, embrace teamwork. As mentioned previously, teamwork is intrinsically linked to collaboration however, the majority of soft skills require individuals to be able to work well and communicate effectively with others. When you engage in teamwork, you open yourself up to learning opportunities from your coworkers while improving your own skills, so giving yourself the opportunity to engage in it as much as possible- team meetings, group presentations, multi-discipline projects- will only help you to practice and develop these skills.