2020 was a year that reshaped the landscape of the working world for the foreseeable future, and some might say for the better. 2020 was also a year in which we relied more heavily than usual on new advances in technology, from the very mundane – such as familiarising ourselves with Zoom and working from home – to the crucial: relying on those at the frontline of scientific and healthcare research to pull us out of the pandemic, whether it be via vaccine development, tracing apps or those desperately trying to find cures for the disease that upended the way we all live and work.
In 2020 we adapted ourselves to what was, in historic terms, ever-changing and unpredictable circumstances, and the importance of “soft skills” – empathy, emotional intelligence, flexibility and adaptability – was more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic forced all of us to find a way to create a new normal amongst the chaos, and next year might look to demand the same adaptability in the face of unpredictable times. After a tumultuous year of uncertainty, here are some top skills employers will be looking for in 2021.
1. Adaptability and Flexibility
Something we heard often – if even too much – throughout 2020 was our need for ‘adaptability.’ Businesses were obliged to adapt to remote learning, restaurants and bars had to adapt their premises to permit social-distancing, and all of us had to adapt to the new normal of living and working through the uncertainty of a global pandemic.
It is, therefore, no surprise that employers will be heralding the need for ‘adaptability’ in their current and future employees going into the new year. Adaptable means being able to work outside of a fixed routine; being able to manage swift and radical changes in the workplace, workload or even type of work; as one HR Executive writes in Forbes: “Candidates and employees should be able to demonstrate how they navigate ambiguity within their roles and the overall purpose their company serves.”
The COVID-19 pandemic proved that regulations and rules that once governed the modern-day workplace can be upended overnight, and so being equipped to deal with changes – being adaptable – will be a desirable “soft skill” to demonstrate and emphasise to potential employers.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence might have been the most under-utilised soft skill in the modern workplace until 2020. In recent decades, workplaces have become more corporatised, tightly-managed – often overly micro-managed – and could be unforgiving of unpredictable circumstances.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced workplace environments to change virtually overnight; employers, faced with the prospect of losing valuable employees due to childcare obligations during school closures, suddenly had to organise their workplace and workload around the capacities of their employers, whilst previously having been habituated to do the opposite.
Employers and employees were obliged to develop what is referred to as emotional intelligence, but what is emotional intelligence? In 2020, emotional intelligence was the ability to handle – with patience rooted in empathy – various inconveniences and problems, often all at once or daily: such as having to work fewer hours or receive reduced pay, manage an increased workload due to a colleague’s absence, or just simply handle the frustration of transferring your workday into virtual communication.
After the tumultuous unpredictability of 2020, emotional intelligence – a so-called “soft skill”, in that it can’t be officially taught – seems to be more important than ever for employers. In a survey conducted by Zety, recruiters and hiring managers displayed a clear preference for soft skills over hard skills in their employers, with 61% of respondents agreeing that they were more important.
Developing a clear empathy and an understanding of what it means to have an “emotional intelligence” will make any jobseeker an attractive candidate to employers in 2021 – demonstrate this soft-skill by emphasising and working on your understanding and patience, especially for the unexpected.
3. Communication Skills and Working Independently
At a time when the world was socially distanced and as separate as ever, it is hard to recall a time when we were also more connected. Lockdowns forced almost all of our correspondence online, bringing with it the unpredictability and often frustrating nature of virtual communication.
As many companies look to continue remote-working in 2021 and perhaps even longer, emphasising your ability to communicate effectively should be priority: many of your key skills in our post-pandemic landscape will ultimately centre around your “soft-skills” – your adaptability, flexibility, time-management – and this applies to your communication skills.
Employers will look for candidates who are able to manage teamwork and communication whilst even remote-working; employees who can communicate virtually with ease and feel comfortable working independently and outside of the typical office workspace; employees who are able to – and feel comfortable – making decisions without being micro-managed, whilst still continuing to produce high-quality work.
4. Technical Skills and Evolved Learning
The world of work in 2020 underwent a radical digital transformation: remote working has become all but banal if not preferred for some, and our dependence on technology has increased significantly. But even putting aside the changes and challenges of the post-pandemic world, rapid advances in technology are occurring constantly and should be at the forefront of every jobseeker’s mind when it comes to keeping their CV modern and their skillset desirable to employers. Data from the Forum’s Future of Jobs Survey demonstrates that an increasing number of companies plan to restructure their workforce in response to new emerging technologies: this means that candidates and jobseekers must try to keep up with emerging technologies if they wish to remain desirable and profitable for a potential employer.
This means having unique skill sets that are not likely to be replaced by automation or machine-learning; various skills that – for the time being – remain safe from automation and are in high demand. These include but are not limited to cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, healthcare, data analytics, data science, video-making and editing, software development and web development. Investing time and study in one – or even many – of these areas will most likely prove beneficial in the long-term, and future-proof your career from upcoming technological advances. Putting aside whether or not our collective dependence on technology is beneficial for the health of our society or not, it is an undeniable job market reality that the workforce is increasingly split between machine-learning, algorithm and labour, meaning more competition for job seekers.
The good news is that taking personal investment in new technologies is not the same academic labour or time commitment as other forms of education – such as a bachelor’s degree for example. As technological developments now move so fast and change constantly, learning the programs of the future might soon be as simple as doing a course in Microsoft Office. Undertaking courses in these new technologies will also contribute to ‘evolved learning’ – another viable key skill going into 2021. Evolved learning – or continual learning – is the idea that your training in a certain job doesn’t stop after your two-week induction; your skills will expand as you work, and you will be required to adapt – such as by taking new programs or retraining in new or updated technologies. Thus, investing now in the technology of the future will increase your job opportunities and render your skillset viable in the long-term.
Overall, the key skills which will be considered desirable by employers in 2021 will ultimately centre around your “soft-skills”: the post-pandemic world has demonstrated that patience, understanding and empathy in difficult times is what helps us overcome the difficult times; overcoming difficulty without upending our lives, the economy, our businesses or workplaces.
The success story of 2020 – perhaps symbolised through the global initiative which resulted in the discovery of multiple successful COVID-19 vaccines – was the ability of the general population to work collectively in unimaginable circumstances. This ability to weather changes with ease and take on difficult working conditions will be in high-demand in 2021 and beyond: working on your soft-skills in the present will be an invaluable investment for your future.