The Big Shift: Demand for Future Work Skills in 2021

The year 2020 is playing out like a bad dream in need of a wake-up call. The battle of the world against the pandemic shook up the workplace, requiring swift accommodation and responses to skills gaps and skill shifts.

The big shift in organizational needs and long-term reliance on digital solutions are creating demand for upskilling and reskilling across the globe. Updated skills are the currency for future-proofing your career.

Demand for Future Work Skills

Future Skills Gap 2021

While HR teams complete workforce planning, they will keep an eye on auditing current talent capabilities and anticipate future skills, assuring survival and growth, rather than extinction.

The Skills Dilemma

How do you prepare for what you don’t know because it is changing so fast? And what skills will matter to you and your organization in the future? 

“If you don’t solve the skills riddle with agility, curiosity, and smart technology capabilities, your organization could fade from existence.” —Marti Konstant  

Billions of dollars are invested yearly on reskilling and upskilling programs. Organizations with healthy growth curves rely on their staff to help them sustain a competitive edge. Workers who adapt and grow with the organization in a time of accelerated change will be able to launch products and services that meet market needs.

Solving the future skills puzzle requires a more practical approach than relying on your intuition.

Reskilling and Upskilling: What’s the Difference?

Often used interchangeably, reskilling, and upskilling have different meanings.

Upskilling refers to advancing within your current function.

When I was a technology marketing exec in 2009, I heard the words nurture marketing. These were code words for marketing automation.

New job titles emerged for the tech side of marketing, like marketing technologist and data scientist. When departments automated with technology solutions, updating digital skills for your role was a sound strategy for ensuring your future.

This was my cue for becoming a marketing technologist to solidify my value in the workplace. Turned out to be a great strategy for job relevance.

Reskilling refers to learning new skills for a job switch or career pivot. Former teacher Colleen Cannon-Ruffo illustrates this idea.

She started as a high school Spanish teacher. Noticing fellow teachers struggling with technology adoption, she moved into the role of instructional technologist, implementing IT projects and training teachers how to use technology in the classroom.

Let’s review the different types of skills.

Power Skills and Hard Skills Defined

Power skills, frequently referred to as soft skills or people skills involve common sense and the ability to navigate interpersonal relationships. Behaviors like emotional intelligence, communication, and adaptability are examples. Power skills are long-lasting, transferable across a number of work environments and roles, and can developed.

Hard skills are quantifiable capabilities learned in an education setting or training program. They are often certified or obtained via special programs and degrees. Coding, budgeting, and marketing operations are examples. They reflect deep expertise in a specific area. Hard skills require frequent updates.

Hard skills relate to the work you do, and power skills reflect how you work.

A highly trained employee who has impressive hard skills may not be able to advance in their organization because they lack power skills. Senior leaders and staff benefit from enhancing their technical knowledge with natural and learned behaviors like empathy or leadership.

These skills are better together.

Introduced by design thinker Tim Brown of IDEO, T-shaped shaped talent combines these two types of skills necessary to succeed. The horizontal portion of the T comprised of power/human skills intersects with the vertical portion, containing deep expertise in a specific area of knowledge.

Job Demand Predictions Highlight Hard Skills for the  Future Workplace

According to data collected by LinkedIn, Coursera, and World Economic Forum (WEF), the WEF Future of Jobs Report indicates 85 million jobs may be displaced by 2025. This is due to a change in the way labor is divided and shared between humans and machines.

However, estimates state 97 million jobs will be created to accommodate the demand for new roles, especially those that include humans as partners to machines.

For 2021, WE Forum lists the top 10 needed jobs:

  1. Data analysts and scientists
  2. AI and machine learning specialists
  3. Big data specialists
  4. Digital marketing and strategy specialists
  5. Process automation professionals
  6. Business development
  7. Digital transformation managers
  8. Information security analysts
  9. Software and app developers
  10. Internet of Things (IoT) specialists

Source: Future of Jobs Report 2020 World Economic Forum

Business development is the only job description based on power skills. The other in-demand roles are dependent on hard skills. However, power skills are meant to complement the effectiveness of your performance in a particular role.

Pandemic Effect: What Power Skills are in Demand?

In addition to the job skill predictions and hard skills referenced earlier, we recently gathered some data to answer the question, “What power skills are most in-demand as a result of the complex COVID workplace?” Formal studies completed their data set in 2019 and we were certain there was a shift by 4th quarter of 2020.

We are in between two bookends, before the pandemic and after the pandemic. This suspended timeframe makes it necessary to monitor how job demand evolves quarter to quarter in addition to year over year.

The companies and research studies in our analysis included: Deloitte, LinkedIn, IBM Institute for Business Value,, Institute for the Future (IFTF), McKinsey, Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), Udemy, Willis Towers Watson, and World Economic Forum.

Rankings were also derived through insights from thought leaders like Josh Bersin, Bernard Marr, and Meghan Biro. 

Skills analysis results:

Power Skills Rankings Via Konstant Change 2020

Prior to the pandemic, creativity was considered the most important power skill via LinkedIn’s January 2020 rankings. With creativity’s ties to innovation and the global economy experiencing a significant growth mode, this personal ability was transferable across a range of organizational needs.

However, the ranking shift uncovered in our analysis stems from a pragmatic examination of skill preferences during a time of uncertainty and disruption.

Emotional intelligence, a combination of self-reflection, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills has risen to the top rank. As the ascent of social unrest, economic uncertainty, and an ongoing global health scare continue, this super skill merits more focus.

Coming in at second and third places are communication and adaptability. In the era of remote work and daily online collaboration, these traits rank higher than past years.

Let’s apply some of this knowledge to organizations and individuals.

Quick Skilling Hits as You Plan for 2021  

For Organizations

Hire a Chief Future Officer (CFO). To accommodate the escalating speed of change and plans for the future, hire a new type of CFO. With a growth mindset, the future-oriented leader will monitor and plan for skills, people, and technology.

Identify the skills gaps. Construct the baseline so you can plan for the future.

The data will inform your upskilling and reskilling plans. The tech branches of Learning and Development enable you to create a data-driven approach to skills management so individuals can upskill and reskill for the right roles.

For Individuals

Follow the money. Companies like Amazon, Zoom, Clorox, and Netflix are in growth mode, due to changes in consumer buying behavior due to COVID. Target growth and avoid industries in decline. Explore the intersection of your interests and match them up with growing organizations.

Sharpen your communication skills for the digital workplace. Organizations require savvy communication capabilities in a remote work environment and as a prerequisite for collaborating with colleagues and partners via online platforms. 

Target in-demand job categories. According to recent data collected by LinkedIn and, IT support, social media management, delivery driving, warehouse work, furniture sales and healthcare are sought-after roles. 

Key Conclusion for the Skills Advantage

Planning for future skills requires an organizational growth mindset and new ideas about the learning experience.

Much like college education, the learning profession will benefit from innovative platforms, ongoing certificate options, and snack-sized offerings focused on skills. The learning landscape is ripe for innovation.

An effective workforce will require a continuous learning culture for the organization and an individual willingness to update skills on a more frequent basis.

Marti Konstant
Marti Konstant is a workplace futurist and the best-selling author of Activate Your Agile Career. Learn more about her book, workshops, and speaking engagements on the topics of career and workforce agility at

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