Professional development: it's not always clear what to focus on. Should you go to a coding bootcamp? Invest in a social media marketing course? Attend a communications training? What should you do to help you excel in your current job -- or prepare you for your next one?
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the answer is simple.
The WEF recently surveyed 350 executives across 9 industries in 15 of the world's biggest economies to generate The Future of Jobs. The report's intention was to predict how technological advancement will transform labor markets. In other words, how will technology impact employers, and therefore what they'll want from employees?
In a world increasingly dominated by robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality, having a firm grasp of what employers will be looking for is smart. Interestingly, more than 33% of the skill sets listed are not yet considered important by employers. They may not be on their radar now--but they will be.
The top 10 skills that will be most desired by employers by 2020:
10. Cognitive flexibility
This involves creativity, logical reasoning, and problem sensitivity. It also means being able to adapt how you communicate based on who you're talking to. Employers want to know you don't just say the same thing to everyone -- that you think critically about who you're talking to, deeply listen, and tailor communication to that person.
9. Negotiation skills
This will be in especially high demand in computer and math jobs, such as data analysis and software development. It will also be critical in the arts and design (including commercial and industrial designers).
8. Service orientation
This was defined as actively seeking ways to help others. How much do you assist those on your team, your superiors, and people across your industry? How much are you known for that?
7. Judgment and decision-making
As organizations collect more and more data, there will be an even greater need for workers who can analyze it and use it to make intelligent decisions. Good judgment also involves knowing how to get buy-in from a colleague, or making a strong suggestion to a manager (even if it might not make you popular).
6. Emotional intelligence
Robots can do a lot, but they still can't read people the way other humans can (at least not yet). Employers will place a strong emphasis on hiring those who are aware of others' reactions, as well as their own impact on others.
5. Coordinating with others
Again, this falls under the social skills umbrella (sensing a trend?). It involves being able to collaborate, adjust in relation to others, and be sensitive to the needs of others.
4. People management
In the report, this included being able to motivate people, develop the talents and skills of employees, and pick the best people for a job. This will be especially in demand for managers in the media and energy industries.
In 2015, creativity ranked 10th on the list. It's now one of the top three skills employers will seek. Why? Because as we're bombarded by new technologies, employers want creative people who can apply that tech to new products and services.
2. Critical thinking
As automation increases, the need for humans who can employ logic and reasoning increases. This is, in part, because machines must be directed ethically and optimally. Employers want people with critical minds who can evaluate the uses or abuses of the power of technology, and use them to benefit the company, the people in it, and the future.
1. Complex problem-solving
Technology can make life easier, but it can also make things more complicated. For example, you could use wearables to help map the walking patterns of nurses and doctors in a hospital to see how to make things more efficient. But without a human being analyzing those results while also having intelligent conversations with nurses, doctors, and patients, you will likely end up with a wrong or even dangerous result.
The report shows that 36% of all jobs across all industries will require complex problem-solving abilities as a core skill by 2020.
Take a look at this list in aggregate, and it's clear that if you want to prepare for 2020 and beyond, you should develop your social skills. Substantially.
This is backed up by David J. Deming, research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The title of his paper isn't even subtle: The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market. He argues that strong social skills will only increase in importance as robots and automation take more jobs.
So if you're wondering about what to focus on when it comes to professional development in 2018 and beyond, consider things like:
Authentic Leadership Intensive, a 3-day training on social intelligence, trust, and authentic communication, led by EQ expert Amy Silverman ($350-435; coming up in January in NYC and February in Miami)
Dealing With Difficult People and Problems, a course out of Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation (~$3,000 for 3 days; Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Search Inside Yourself, a leadership program based on the 5 primary components of emotional intelligence, originally given as a wildly popular course at Google (~$650-$1,350; all over the world, including Paris in January and SF in April)
And take heart.
Far from robots taking over the world, their rise seems to mean that it is the very things that make you human -- your willingness to cover for a coworker whose mother is sick; your desire to help two radically different teammates work together; your heartfelt appreciation of a manager who had our backs -- that will make you the most valuable.