Soft Skills – a Workplace Trend to Embrace and be Fit for the Future of Work

Morgan_futureofwork1 - 5 trends

In the book, Time to Explore, Roberta Neault in 2012 highlighted one trend that most people pay limited attention to, “soft skills”, or “essential skills” as some call them, compared to technical skills relevant to any job. Yet several work place trends forecasting research institutes, organisations and individuals continue to produce evidence in support of this trend six years later. Inputting search words on Google Scholar for soft skills “future of work” in 2015 yielded 1580 results of scholarly articles, 2018 755 and four months into 2019, there are 219 articles already. This demonstrates that there is a global body of knowledge around the importance of soft skills in the current workplace and future of work.

 What is soft skills trends from 2018 to 2019 telling us?

There are three workplace and career information sources that you can refer to for further reading that will be introduced here.

SOFT SKILLS TRENDS SOURCE 1: World Economic Forum – 2020 and 2022 Forecast

In 2016 the World Economic Forum produced a Global Challenge Insight Report – The Future of Jobs – Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2016 – The report produced a list of soft skills that will be critical in 2020 for what they are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This report is still relevant for you as an individual or an organisation because the list of Top 10 Skills they identified informs decision-making about where to invest or focus skill development opportunities and resources. Refer to the diagram below: SOURCE: World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report, 2016

WEF The 10 Skills you need to thrive in the 21st Century - 2020

In 2018, they produced a follow-up report, which provides a 2022 forecast of soft skills that are declining in relevance and the ones that are growing. This is corroborated by other Labour Market Information (LMI) sources that are presented here. Refer to the diagram below: SOURCE: World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report, 2018:

2022 - Growing Job Skills for The Future - WEF

The World Economic Forum is one of the platforms governments, influencers and big companies go to discuss economic issues, it is therefore an important player to watch because of its influence on global labour market trends. Both World Economic Forum reports are useful and relevant sources that also provide in-depth analysis with a lot of references for you to follow-up.

SOFT SKILLS TRENDS SOURCE 2: McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) – 2030 Forecast

Labour Market Discussion Paper – McKinsey Global Institute – Skill Shift – Automation and the Future of the Workforce – May 2018

The introduction of the report states that “the partners of McKinsey fund MGI’s research; it is not commissioned by any business, government, or other institution.” This statement is important in assessing the bias that may be presented in this discussion paper. MGI has a track record of producing research reports used by those who need to make key business or personal development decisions, as well as policy development.

In the production of the discussion paper, MGI made use of an extensive project team and research Advisors who are not part of their staff, which lends credibility to the work. This an important report to pay attention to as it is applicable globally and across sectors. Please note: The data for this report is from the US and Europe and it is an analysis of five business sectors. Despite this, the countries, sectors and industries reviewed are global, operating in the Americas region, Africa and Asia as well. The impact of the changes made and these trends is therefore global, even though some contextualization for relevance will be necessary.

The results demonstrate that automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will change the skills needed in the workforce, as shown in the diagram below from the Discussion Paper.

MGI Automation and AI will change the skills needed

SOURCE: McKinsey Global Institute – Skill Shift – Automation and the Future of the Workforce – May 2018

In terms of soft skills for the future, these fall in the higher cognitive skills category such as creative thinking and the social and emotional skills category, which are listed in the extract below.

Extract from the MGI Report We end up with a set of 25 skills across five broad categories: physical and manual, basic cognitive, higher cognitive, social and emotional, and technological skills. Within each category are more specific skills. For instance, within social and emotional skills, we include:

  1. Advanced communication
  2. Negotiation,
  3. Interpersonal skills
  4. Empathy,
  5. Leadership and managing others,
  6. Entrepreneurship
  7. Initiative taking,
  8. Adaptability
  9. Continuous learning,
  10. Teaching and training others.

We have also separated technological skills from higher cognitive skills, although some of the former require higher cognitive capabilities.”

The diagram below by compares the change in hours worked between 2016 and 2030 per skill category in the United States and Europe. In both regions, there is a notable declined in physical and manual skills, as well as basic cognitive skills  a sharp increase in the soft skills categories is noted visually below.

MGI Skill Shift

SOURCE: McKinsey Global Institute – Skill Shift – Automation and the Future of the Workforce – May 2018

Comparing with the World Economic Forum list, there are similarities in terms of people management, empathy, creativity, continuous learning and negotiation skills. The added advantage of this MGI report is the attention given to the changes organisations will need to undergo in making the skill shift due to automation – individuals need to pay close attention as this impact job or career progression opportunities.  Refer to the diagram below. The first is a mindset shift where organisations need to focus on “providing continuous learning options and instilling a culture of lifelong learning throughout the organization”. Second is a change in organizational structures, with “a strong shift toward cross-functional and team-based work, more agile ways of working with less hierarchy, and new business units may need to be created”. The third is an attempt to make the most use of the qualifications the talent in the organization brings, by altering the allocation of work activities, with work being “unbundled” and “rebundled.” The last one is the need for change in HR approaches and also decision-making by senior executives. Companies are said to have five options (in blue in the diagram below) to build their workforce for the future. Individuals take note of how each option can impact you.

MGI How organisations will need to change

SOURCE: McKinsey Global Institute – Skill Shift – Automation and the Future of the Workforce – May 2018

The changes and options presented are critical for both individuals and organisations to take note of as they have huge implications for strategy, organizational change efforts, talent investment and for individuals, how to develop and position yourself as adaptable talent for the future of work.

SOFT SKILLS TRENDS SOURCE 3: LinkedIn Talent Solutions – 2019 Forecast

Talent Solutions Report – LinkedIn Global Talent Trends – January 2019

The sheer volume of professionals who are on LinkedIn, including high level decision-makers is one of the reasons for including this source and for trusting it. LinkedIn has over 500 million users, 200 million are active monthly, 61 million of its users are senior level influencers and 40 million are in decision-making positions. It’s data set is good and relevant to the issues. Its report findings also fit in with information from other sources. Despite this, you need to be aware that their list connects to their LinkedIn Learning courses, which they offer for a fee.

LinkedIn identified 5 talent trends for 2019 that are transforming the workplace. These are outlined in the picture below and elaborated in the report.

Screen-Shot-2019-01-30-at-2_27_49-PM - LINKED IN 4 TALENT TRENDS

SOURCE: LinkedIn Talent Report – 2019 Talent Trends

Soft skills rank high, work flexibility and anti-harassment rank second and third, with pay transparency being fourth. The rationale for why soft skills is similar to that given in other reports, automation, resource pressures, but this report brings in a new angle. It argues that access to information globally is empowering employees to demand decent working conditions, flexibility, fair pay and equipping staff to hold employers and leaders to a higher standard of transparency and behaviour. Global movements such as #metoo and the safeguarding challenges that the non-governmental sector faced in 2017 and 2018, have also had a huge impact on these trends. The Top 5 soft skills identified by LinkedIn Talent as needed by companies are listed as:

5 Soft Skills for the Future - LinkedIn 2019

The identified soft skills are in line with others in the reports shared already. Such triangulation is important in trend analysis. These trends are also important for both individuals, employers and organisations to not only take note of, but act on.


Career research, trends spotting and analysis should be your new hobby if you do not already practice this. It is critical to understand the forces that influence and positively or negatively impact your life and work decisions and actions. Final reflection thought:

Organisations: after reading this and the reports, reflect on whether your business, company or organisation, is future of work ready, and what you can do about it.

Individuals: as an individual, identify the soft skills you have, map them against those foreast as important for the future of work and develop an action plan of how to make yourself future of work ready!

The end!

Next Steps:

Organisations – If you need support in contextualising this labour market information to your organisation, feel free to contact me on the e-mail address provided.

Individuals: If you need support on how to utilise this career information for career planning, CV/resume review and writing or job search planning, whether currently employed or not, get in touch using the e-mail address provided.

Ennie Fletcher Career Day blog pictureWritten by: Ennie Chipembere Chikwema, Career Coach and Learning Specialist

LinkedIn Profile:


Date published: 23 April 2019


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