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Future Skills

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Future Skills

The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World


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You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it with these 20 essential skills for the digital age.

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Every day, new technologies emerge, changing how people work, communicate, travel and live. You might find this change overwhelming as jobs become automated and machines learn to act more like humans. But fear not; world-renowned futurist Bernard Marr explains the skills that will allow you to thrive in the days to come. Learn what technologies you need to master, and how to improve your critical thinking, strengthen your interpersonal relations and increase your cultural awareness. Marr’s accessible approach helps make embracing changing times more simple and enjoyable.


  • The future of work may seem daunting, but people with the right skills will thrive.
  • Skills 1-4 – You need basic digital, data, technological and cybersecurity skills to work in almost any field.
  • Skills 5-8 – The digital world requires critical thinking, emotional intelligence and creativity.
  • Skills 9-12 – Improve your interpersonal skills for collaborating, working remotely and adaptability.
  • Skills 13-16 – Your and your company’s reputation rely on boosting cultural, ethical and leadership awareness.
  • Skills 17-20 – Adapt to the future with better time-management skills, a curious mind-set and healthy choices.


The future of work may seem daunting, but people with the right skills will thrive.

Emerging technologies have dramatically changed work over the past decade. This trend will only accelerate in the future, with one report predicting that 85% of future jobs do not even exist yet. You may find this fact daunting; but, in practice, the rise of automation and more sophisticated AI will make work more fulfilling for humans. Humans do need to master certain skills to thrive in this new environment, but you may not need as much in-depth technological know-how as you might imagine. Indeed, many of the most sought-after abilities will be soft skills like emotional intelligence and creativity. To ensure you’re ready for the future of work, aim to equip yourself with these 20 essential skills:

Skills 1-4 – You need basic digital, data, technological and cybersecurity skills to work in almost any field.

Today’s fast-paced world demands the ability to interact with technology confidently, no matter your type of work. People describe the majority of jobs that require a college education as “digitally intensive.” Connecting to Wi-Fi, using Zoom or posting on social media have become necessities. Even jobs that don’t require a college degree are seeing the effects of new tech. For example, some hair salons have gone digital, using AI mirrors that let you preview hairstyles by, for instance, turning your hair pink virtually.

As technology develops, you will need to keep an open mind and a willingness to continually learn. This includes the ability to process data, which affects your researching and problem-solving skills.

Every interaction you have with your phone, computer or TV creates data that marketers and other businesses use to gain insights into what their customers want. People today build entire careers and companies around the collection and analysis of data, making it one of the world’s most valuable resources. Having “data literacy” goes beyond the ability to Google something; you need to know how to tell if data is accurate, current and missing any major facts. Companies seek individuals with data literacy skills because doing so helps them stay up-to-date with the latest trends.

“In the complex, hybrid workplaces of the future… tasks and goals are accomplished through a blend of machine and human power.”

While the digital world often includes replacing humans with machines, people still need to know how to do things by hand. Holding on to nondigital technical skills like those involved in medicine, plumbing, truck driving, product design and writing remains necessary for advancements in those fields. Find a balance between your physical and mental skills and the new technologies created to make your job easier. 

If you lack confidence with digital interfaces and data processing, invest time in learning about them. You can take an online course, often tailored to your specific job, or use a self-taught method and learn from books. You can also learn from a mentor at your company who already knows how to work with the technology.

The more you learn, the more comfortable you will become working within the digital world. This knowledge will also help you avoid cyber threats such as cyberbullying, hacking, identity theft, scams and viruses. Basic digital skills help you develop a widely applicable working relationship with new technologies and the internet.

Skills 5-8 – The digital world requires critical thinking, emotional intelligence and creativity.

Every day, the internet bombards you with copious amounts of information. From social media to news, incoming data can contain misleading facts, biased opinions and fraud. To avoid falling prey to fake news, hone your critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking involves collecting data, determining biases, identifying falsities and questioning sources. Unfortunately, for most people this proves extremely difficult as the internet’s way of spreading news vastly differs from pre-internet methods of disseminating information. 

“56% of Facebook users can’t actually recognize fake news that aligns with their beliefs.”

To navigate the internet with more confidence, improve your critical thinking abilities in five steps:

  1. Fact-check all information.
  2. Vet your sources for accuracy.
  3. Seek out missing information.
  4. Rely on trustworthy sources.
  5. Draw your own conclusions.

Develop your judgment and decision-making skills to avoid oversimplifying problems or missing important details.

Make better choices more quickly and improve your judgment in six steps:

  1. Gather all the facts and angles for the problem at hand.
  2. Decide your desired outcome.
  3. Compare and contrast different solutions.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Take your own biases into consideration.
  6. Consider multiple options before you act.

The ability to recognize and control your emotions, and to understand the emotions of others, remains necessary for creating meaningful relationships, improving your self-awareness, resolving conflicts and collaborating. Listen more, talk less; see things from others’ perspectives and channel your emotions positively to strengthen your compassion and empathy.

Emotional intelligence and critical thinking also enhance creativity. For now, humans outperform machines thanks to the brain’s imagination and sense of wonder. Boosting your curiosity and even daydreaming can help you shape the future and fuel inspiring collaborations.

Skills 9-12 – Improve your interpersonal skills for better collaborating, working remotely and adaptability.

In the post-pandemic era, more of the world’s workforce works remotely. Fully 84% of employers plan to expand remote opportunities and move 44% of their employees out of the office. This shift in working dynamics means changing how collaboration happens between people in the office and those at home. 

Efficiency, problem-solving, innovation, creativity and productivity rely on the ability of team members to collaborate. To improve your collaboration skills, actively listen, stay open to new ideas, and generously give your time and expertise to others.

Working well with others is a much-needed skill. It allows you to be a valuable contributor and to get what you need out of negotiations. Learn your style of communication, and consider whether it clashes with your co-workers or enhances your collaborations. Stay open to changing the way you talk, think before you speak and explain things through a narrative rather than simply listing facts.

Improving your interpersonal skills is especially important if you have a freelance job. Today, one-third of the United States’ workforce operates within the gig economy, and those numbers will increase in the future. People gravitate to these jobs due to the autonomy they offer, the growth of entrepreneurial skills, and the option to choose working partners or employers. 

While setbacks like having no access to employer-sponsored health care, sick leave or pensions exist, the ability to make your own hours often outweighs the negatives. Freelance or gig work helps you adapt to the quickly changing future as industries rise and fall.

“Change is the only constant.” (Greek philosopher Heraclitus)

Staying adaptive means seeking new opportunities, having an open mind, persevering through hardship and creatively solving new problems. With these skills, you build stronger “mental resilience” to change. Over time, you may learn to seek out change, which gives you the upper hand in the ever-evolving job market.

If you find yourself resistant to change, unlearn your old habits and explore new perspectives. Stay curious about what lies ahead and step outside your comfort zone slowly, one step at a time. Expansion, inclusion and diversity await you in the future, and to survive, and thrive, you must embrace the change.

Skills 13-16 – Your and your company’s reputation rely on boosting cultural, ethical and leadership awareness.

Many cultures and backgrounds intermingle and collaborate in organizations across the global economy. Unsurprisingly, conflicts and discrimination can arise. A Boston Consulting Group study shows that companies that maintain diverse teams report revenues 19 percentage points higher than companies with less diversity. Businesses now seek inclusive hires to boost their success rates. As your workplace becomes more diverse, remember these five tips to enhance your cultural awareness and respect for others:

  1. No one can claim a superior culture; such superiority does not exist.
  2. Recognize your prejudices.
  3. Ask others about their culture to learn more.
  4. Broaden your reading materials to find out what goes on around the world and to gain new points of view.
  5. Remain empathetic to the struggles of others.

Treating others with respect not only goes a long way in business, but also in functioning as an ethical person. The digital era is not only bringing changes to things like the ways people communicate and how they shop, it is also raising new ethical dilemmas surrounding things such as data mining and gene editing. Increasing ethical awareness leads to a better future and more sustainable success.

Focus on your values and what you honor as important. Let these morals guide your choices and avoid any deviations, especially if you find yourself in a leadership position.

“Integrity is a vital skill in any leader.”

Leaders need to motivate, inspire trust, act responsibly and radiate authenticity. A leader without strong ethics that he or she faithfully upholds can’t convince others to follow what he or she claims as values. Improve your leadership by modeling yourself after someone you admire.

People like to follow leaders with sound reputations – people with well-known, reliable personal brands. Building a personal brand helps you tell others, in a brief snapshot, who you are and what you do well. Your brand’s strength can determine whether people see you as a trustworthy expert or a problematic person. Boosting your online presence through social media and networking within the office can take your brand’s exposure far and help you achieve greater success.

Skills 17-20 – Adapt to the future with better time-management skills, a curious mind-set and healthy choices.

Effective time management can mean the difference between reaching your goals with a healthy work-life balance or suffering physical and mental burnout.

You can avoid a lot of stress, procrastination, missed deadlines and poor-quality work when you learn to manage your time. Follow these four steps to gain a better work-life balance:

  1. Do the big important tasks first.
  2. Set a time limit for each task.
  3. Avoid distractions and unnecessary multitasking.
  4. Outsource work whenever possible.

Once you control your schedule and work flow, you may find that your reduced stress lets you explore new opportunities with renewed curiosity. Embracing the future requires a willingness to continually learn. Avoid locking yourself into stale thought patterns. Broadening your horizons helps you prepare for what comes next.

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” (systems scientist Peter Senge)

Adapting requires unlearning old habits, accepting the loss of control and remaining patient with yourself through the process. Becoming more resilient makes you stronger, wiser and ready for the future.

You can’t work on any of these skills unless you take care of yourself. Keeping your body healthy keeps your mind clear and balanced:

  1. Exercise at least 20 minutes per day.
  2. Go outside into nature.
  3. Eat nutritionally balanced foods.
  4. Get at least eight hours of sleep at night.
  5. Practice presence with mindful meditation.
  6. Strengthen relationships with the people who matter most in your life.

Looking after yourself takes commitment and discipline, but doing so leads to a balanced, enriched life and prepares you for the future.

About the Author

Futurist Bernard Marr also wrote Business Trends in Practice; Data Strategy; and Artificial Intelligence in Practice.

This document is restricted to personal use only.

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