4 Key Skills To Remain Relevant In 21st Century Job Market


In the now-popular words of the late American futurist Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Toffler, who died in 2016, was way ahead of his time when he wrote these words in his 1970 book “Future Shock”.  

Probably, Toffler had realised that a knowledge-based economy — driven by technological innovation, information, and data — will dominate the 21st Century, where the gap between an employee’s existing skill set and the required skill set will constantly widen.  

Toffler’s prescient statement, thus, highlights the need for employees to reskill themselves to remain employable this century.  

As per ‘The Future of Jobs 2020’ report, 50 per cent of employees will need to reskill themselves by 2025 as newer technologies disrupt the way people work. Not to forget the unprecedented disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has given rise to a digital-driven work culture and reliance on internet-enabled technologies.  

‘The Future of Jobs 2020’ report by the World Economic Forum has identified certain competencies which employees will need to possess for thriving in the new-age job market. These competencies are required in a cross section of jobs — traditional as well as new-age — and careers as they help employees remain relevant in the 21st century world.   

1. Critical Thinking

In simple terms, critical thinking entails finding out the “why” and “how” of any subject in order to better understand it. 

For instance: To understand climate change, it is important to know why and how it impacts the globe, not just know “what” the phenomenon is. Critical thinking requires people to evaluate information gathered from observation, experience, reflection or reasoning to correctly diagnose and resolve any problem. Be it a traditional field like law or a modern job like data analysis, critical thinking is perhaps the biggest sector-neutral competency a 21st century employee can possess.  

2. Creativity and Originality

“Thinking out-of-the-box” – this oft-used term encapsulates this skill. 

Noted author Sir Ken Robinson has defined creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value”. 

In the context of careers, “value” is the differentiator between an ordinary idea and a great idea. Great ideas, when they work out in the real world, become pathbreaking disruptions. And there can be no creativity without original thinking. With start-ups as well as established brands looking to become “disruptors”, employees who can not only churn out original ideas but also creatively resolve complex problems will be valued by companies.  

3. Resilience

The ability to bounce back despite facing challenges is nothing but resilience. The 2020 Microsoft Work Trend Index has shown 29 per cent of Indian workforce experiencing increased burnout at work during the pandemic. Pandemic or otherwise, workload-related stress has led to many employees complaining of burnout. Resilience, thus, is considered an invaluable skill in a 21st century employee. Being resilient at a workplace involves three aspects: The ability to handle stress effectively, work within set deadlines, and adapt to the ever-evolving workspace. Needless to say, high performing employees are often hailed for their resilience.  

4. Emotional Intelligence

Dr Daniel Goleman had coined the term ’emotional intelligence’ or EQ to define one’s ability to manage feelings in order to express them appropriately and effectively. Empathy and the ability to handle other person’s emotions effectively — also called social skills – form a major part of EQ. 

The ability to empathise with people and effectively handle different personality types in a common workspace help in building a strong and efficient team. 

A good mix of self-awareness — knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and working on them — and intrinsic motivation — having a larger purpose in life — are also key components of EQ. For example: Managers, diplomats and salespersons need to have a high degree of EQ to succeed.

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