Thought Leadership

15 Critical Skills to Master for the Future World of Work

Opinion by Dr Eric Albertini, Future Fit Academy

Ask anyone what the crucial skills are to compete in the future world of work, and they’re likely to rattle off a list of competencies such as coding, robotics, digital marketing, programming and so on.  This overt focus on technical or digital competencies stems from the belief that machines and robots will automate jobs and remove the need for human labour and skills in the 4th Industrial Revolution, making millions of jobs redundant.

Granted, there is some truth in the fact that many jobs will be automated and driven by computers and artificial intelligence – but this has been a business reality for decades in the drive for business operational efficiencies and the achievement of that truly important state called progress!  

In fact, for every pessimist who believes tech and disruption will make more jobs redundant and signal the end of “being human”, history has categorically proven that technological advances create more jobs, in different industry sectors.  The big question that everyone should be asking of themselves, of their leaders and workforce is not what technical competencies are needed, but rather:

“Will I rise to the challenge of learning what is required to stay relevant in the future world of work? Do I possess the crucial human traits and behaviours to be a lifelong learner, to embrace change to continually learn new, in-demand skills to empower myself to transition and face the future of work successfully?”

It is important that we pick up our pace of change and look to build capability that helps us to adapt, thrive and succeed within an ever-changing world. For any employer, employee, student, leader or entrepreneur looking to get handle on what the skills of the future will be, the list is onerous.  A Google search on “future world of work” yields in excess of three million results. A search for “skills for future of work” yields approximately 700 000 results.  There is an avalanche of literature suggesting the “top skills for the future of work”, yet no “definitive” list of what these skills are.

Instead, to cut through the clutter, and through literature review and years of consultation and work with corporates, local and international business schools, think tanks and providers of management and executive education, the Future Fit Academy has defined 15 ‘behavioural’ future fit skills as critical to being relevant and competent, if not advanced, in the future of work.  

The emphasis on the ‘Future Fit’ skills is equally as important to individuals as it is to employers and businesses. To meet the skills challenge and ensure that businesses are sustainable and competitive demands that organisations developing their human capital ‘muscle’ to strengthen companies for future disruptions. Companies need a talent strategy that develops employees’ critical, future fit skills. For individuals, the need to upskill has never been more pressing.

Reskilling could be the best strategy for individuals to ensure they are flexible and nimble resources in ‘disrupted’ companies – and as indispensable as possible.

In harnessing and developing these 15 skills, the Future Fit Academy developed a Future Fit Index which provides a comprehensive self-assessment tool that assesses your level of effectiveness in these 15 critical skills needed to be effective now, and in the future world of work.  They are:    

  • Curiosity – The desire to know more about something or someone. The willingness to seek out and embrace the unknown.
  • Dealing with Paradox – the ability to deal with seemingly opposing or contradictory perspectives, the ability to think “both/and” instead of “either/or”.
  • Tolerance of Ambiguity – The degree to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions and multiple demands. COVID-19 has taught us this in truckloads.
  • Learning Agility – the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to perform effectively in new and different situations.
  • Growth mindset – The mindset that talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others.
  • Design Thinking Mindset – an ideology and a process concerned with solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way.
  • Sensemaking – refers to how we structure the unknown so as to be able to act.
  • Creating Clarity – also known as Visioning and Mobilising, is about defining shared values and engaging people in positive action.
  • Adaptability – is about having ready access to different ways of thinking, enabling leaders to shift and experiment as things change.
  • Cultural Adaptability – An individual’s willingness and ability to adapt their manner of communicating, motivating, and managing across cultures.
  • Virtual Collaboration – Collaboration between dispersed team members that is carried out via technology-mediated communication.
  • Change Resiliency – Being able to adapt well and bounce back quickly in times of stress and constant change.  
  • Resourcefulness – The ability and creativity to cope with difficulties, the ability to deal resourcefully with difficult problems.
  • Leading without Authority – Getting others to willingly cooperate and engage, rather than following directives because of your positional authority.
  • Connectedness – The ability to relate to others in a manner that builds them up, encourages, and brings out their highest potential.


Being ‘Future Fit’ is not simply about technical skills or competencies, but rather a holistic set of skills, behaviours and traits that are inherent to being ‘human’. It is these 15 crucial behavioural skills that lay the foundation to being “a lifelong learner” who is able to focus on continual learning of new, in-demand skills and able to claim your power in facing the future of work successfully. In our changing work climate, lifelong learning paves the way for success in a future world of work that has in fact already arrived and is morphing and evolving at exponential rates.  

Why are these 15 future fit skills so important?

Based on the ‘Knowing-Doing-Being’ framework, the Future Fit Index takes into account all aspects of good leadership and management and how it works in practice. It recognises the need for rounded development across technical knowledge, capability and personal awareness.

The reality is that many technical competencies you learned at university, on the job or at trade college are likely to become outdated and redundant in a world facing exponential change (ask Kodak and BlackBerry leadership). 

However, your ability to embrace the opportunity that comes with change, learn new skills on a lifelong basis, and cope with the stresses of uncertainty are underpinned by your ability to harness and leverage the 15 future fit skills.  

Consider for example, the software developer or programmer who learned the ropes on (now seemingly archaic) Cobol, C++ and Fortran programming languages. Those who evolved their skills and embraced the rapid change and uncertainty of the tech world earn 6-digit salaries in 2020 on Python, Perl, Scala and Javascript. 

Consider the self-employed electrician who is now a solar PV specialist able to integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) into his customer’s smart home, green energy management systems, and leads a team of technicians and salespeople on our country’s energy transition. It is a huge leap from the good old days of wiring up DB boards and issuing COCs.

Consider the once retrenched accounts clerk who took the leap of faith to self-employment (and self-determination) to build up her book of clients in need of outsourced accounting services. 

Consider the business and HR leaders who are tasked with having to reskill and upskill entire workforces to deliver new business models in a post-pandemic era.

Technical qualifications count at a base level of being competent to do a certain job, at a certain level. But one’s level of mastery of the 15 Future Fit skills will determine ones ability to evolve, learn new skills, progress and remain relevant in the future world of work – whether as a business leader, an employee, an independent consultant or entrepreneur. 

In mastering the 15 Future Fit skills, the detailed Future Fit Index provides respondents with an awareness of their level of readiness across these skills, as well as a developmental pathway for each of the 15 skills assessed.  By understanding your level of readiness on each of these 15 future fit skills, the Future Fit Academy is then able to formulate a learning strategy to guide behaviour change and master these skills, knowledge and behaviours required to remain relevant and effective in an ever-changing world.

Being Future Fit for a changing world of work extends to a concept of the “whole person”, moving  the focus from intellect and ‘qualifications’, to personal areas of strength and weakness across a variety of essential leadership and success traits. Being able to execute strategy, lead and manage uncertainty effectively extends well beyond technical competencies, into the realm of behaviours and personal traits that can and should be learned and developed as much, if not more, than any ‘academic’ qualification.