4 Key Skills Employees Need for the Workplace of the Future

by Jennifer Miller on July 27, 2015

in Leadership, Learning, Personal Effectiveness, Workplace Issues

business skills of the futureI’m a sponsored blog partner with Spherion (a staffing and recruiting organization) and am participating in the release of findings from Spherion’s Emerging Workforce Study.  All opinions are mine.

What are the top skills that the employee of the future needs? A recent study commissioned by Spherion and conducted by Harris Poll aimed to find out. Given that big data is making its way into all elements of the workplace, it may not surprise you to discover that the survey identified skill sets that support the tech-intensive world of work:

  • Problem solving skills
  • Strategic thinking skills
  • Evolving technology expertise
  • Ability to understand and interpret data

The good news is that both employers (with HR managers serving as the voice of the employer) and employees were in agreement that these four abilities represent critical skills needed to succeed in the workplace of the future.

The not-so-good news, according to the survey, is that there is agreement on what employees need to develop, but not necessarily the best way to get there. Just over one third (35%) of employees polled said they “worried a lot about falling behind in acquiring new skills that will be needed in the future.” Moreover, the same percentage—35%—are also concerned with finding the time to keep their skills up-to-date.

Employers are not as concerned about these issues. According to the HR managers polled, only 26% feel challenged by keeping up with training demands. As a former employee of corporate America with experience as a Human Resources manager and also as a line manager, I can understand this gap in perception. HR managers view their role as ensuring that appropriate training opportunities exist. But as it often happens in the workplace, the successful implementation of these training programs comes down to leadership: the line managers. If employees feel they can’t leave their jobs to attend training to update their skills, they will resist attending the training. At the very least, they’ll be distracted while in attendance at the training session. Neither is optimal for learning new skills.

Valued employees—the ones managers want to keep—are often the most conscientious. Therefore, they’re typically the most stressed when it comes to leaving their immediate work area to attend training. They worry that nobody will be there to pick up the slack. And when they return from training, they’ve either got a mess to clean up or a pile of work that requires extensive catch-up. I can’t tell you the number of times when I was as a corporate trainer that people would confide in me: “Jennifer, I’m excited to come to the training, but I dread going back to work after being out of the office.” Or, I would see people fleeing during their breaks, anxiously talking on their cell phones, trying to get an hour’s worth of work done in 15 minutes.

Is the answer shorter training programs? Possibly. But learning new skills takes time, as well as the ability to relax and open up to the learning experience. I’m all for creating “learning chunks” to shorten the duration of the learning event and increase learning retention. But at some point, leaders must understand that developing the skills of their workforce is a critical part of staying competitive in the marketplace. No matter what the teaching methodology—classroom, webinar, on-the-job, simulations or using tech-based apps—there must be space allotted in an employee’s day for this learning. Until managers understand (and buy in to) this idea, the gap in skills development will not close.


About the Emerging Workforce Study: For more than 18 years, Spherion has examined the issues and trends impacting employment and the workforce. This year, Spherion’s “Emerging Workforce Study” was conducted between March and April of 2015 by Harris Poll, a Nielsen company. The study polled over 2,000 workers and 225 human resource managers on their opinions and attitudes regarding important workplace topics such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, generational differences and work/life balance. One of the study’s goals was to look for indicators for what the workplace will become. As the perspectives and attitudes of the workforce evolve, employers must better understand employees for greater business success.

You can also follow Spherion on Twitter (hashtag #EWS2014) or join them on Facebook.

Disclosure: Spherion partnered with bloggers (like yours truly) for their Emerging Workforce Study program. As part of this program, I received compensation for my time. I was free to form my own opinions about the data supplied by Spherion and all opinions are my own. Spherion’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.


photo credit 123rf.com – Copyright : Robert Churchill

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