27 September 2023

Full team ahead: The ‘forever skills’ your team needs to have now

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Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory* say there are 12 skills your team needs to have to maintain a competitive advantage into the future.

Photo: Anastasia Zhenina

The focus of your staff development program can often be challenging.

The accelerating rate of change has tended to leave hard or technical skills with ever shortening lifespans.

Clearly there’s a need to stay current, to understand the digital revolution that all industries are trying to navigate and to be cognisant of the impacts that cloud computing, AI and robotics will have in every industry sector.

However, our research over the past two years has identified 12 “forever skills” that should also receive a greater quantity of our attention.

These forever skills are those abilities and capabilities that have always served us (even in our most ancient history).

Interestingly, they are also the skills that are most sought after by employers currently, according to LinkedIn’s skills in demand data.

They are also the skills where humanity can still have a competitive advantage in the future according to the futurists, economists, educators and business leaders we interviewed.

These skills are clustered into three distinct fields:

  • Creativity skills.
  • Communication skills.
  • Control skills.

So, let’s examine them more closely.

Creativity skills included such capabilities as insight generation and meaning making, creative problem solving and innovation, conversion of raw materials and information into new formats that provide social and economic value as well as cognitive agility, the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn (to borrow a phrase from Alvin Toffler) and to shift from one context to another with flexibility and adaptability.

Communication skills , perhaps rather predictably, were characterised by an ability to increase influence and engagement around our ideas, to build teams and manage relationships, a deftness in translating information from one context, generation or sphere to another and an ability to engender trust and establish authority and thought leadership.

Control skills stretched from the personal need for self-control and a willingness to resist procrastination, implement and take action, to the social and societal functions of establishing consensus and social (or community or organisation) order and an ability to manage resources — both tangible and intangible.

While it is tempting to be distracted by the “shiny and new” and equally challenging to ignore the cries of educators for more STEM in our education system or that every child must be taught to code, it might be worth remembering that those of us who learned to code in Cobol in the 1980s/1990s have found Cobol coding work increasingly in short demand.

In fact, many of these technical skills are already being outsourced and offshored, and as self-coding AI is a much closer reality than many of us may be aware, it’s worth augmenting our training, education and development with skills that have greater longevity.

What we also found in our research, is that these forever skills were considered the most critical in moving from competent professional to compelling leader.

In other words, hard skills may get you the gig, but so-called soft skills make you a leader.

So, what does this all mean for your own personal development and for your training strategies for your team and organisation?

First, we’re certainly not advocating an ignorance of technical skills or of the skills that are essential for the age, epoch or the current industrial revolution you happen to find yourself caught up in.

We’re currently navigating the fourth.

Rather, our research has pointed to the fact that, not only does anchoring our focus on the familiar and evergreen make the nature of change less daunting, it also pays a rather stronger educational dividend on our investment of time, money and energy.

In other words, seek relevance for today while you invest in forever.

* Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory specialise in leading change and are the co-authors of Forever Skills and co-founders of The Impossible Institute. Their website is www.theimpossibleinstitute.com.

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