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What skills will we need in a post-COVID world?

The good news is, many of these don’t require enormous investments of time and money to learn!

It’ll probably be 20 years before we can fully analyse the cumulative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are some things we know already. The nature of work has changed. Employee and employer expectations have changed. Resilience and agility are more than just corporate management buzzwords—they’re necessary survival traits. And the professional skills needed to succeed in a post-COVID world are shifting faster than anyone could have anticipated.

So what skills will we need to thrive in ‘COVID normal’? Deloitte has already forecasted that soft-skill-intensive occupations—those that rely on hard-coded, psycho-social skills like leadership, creativity and empathy—will account for two thirds of all jobs, everywhere, by 2030. But what about hard skills? RMIT Online's own research has found that Australia will need 156,000 new digital technology workers by 2025, and already 87% of all jobs in Australia require some kind of digital literacy skills. The future is looking increasingly remote, increasingly automated, and increasingly online.

“COVID-19 has been a great case study of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (short name VUCA) we face in the 2020s, and the virus has likely transformed the way we work forever,” says Nigel Dalton, social scientist at Thoughtworks Australia. “The essential human skills people need today are being good at solving puzzles, connecting the dots, seeing patterns, and asking the right questions.”


Here are some key skills you’ll need in a post-COVID world.


1. Resilience


The global professional landscape was already in flux before COVID-19 arrived—industry 5.0 was churning along, lifelong learning was overtaking standard tertiary education, and businesses were looking for data-savvy employees to plug emerging skills gaps—the pandemic simply accelerated the pace of change. Faced with massive structural upheaval, resilience has become a crucial soft skill for businesses to nurture. Not just an ability to overcome obstacles, but to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and turn hardship into opportunity. “Employees must be equipped to operate remotely, innovate, and adapt. Companies need talent strategies that focus on digital, cognitive, social and emotional, and adaptability and resilience skills,” McKinsey says, “these are fundamental skills, irrespective of an employee’s role, and companies can consider them a ‘no-regret’ investment.”


2. Tech savviness


As early as 2017, a McKinsey Global Institute analysis estimated that 14% of the global workforce would need to be reskilled entirely, and 40% would need partial reskilling to continue with their current occupations. This tallies with RMIT Online's own research: we’ve found that 50,600 Australians are already reporting lack of skills and education as their major barrier to finding work, and in a post-COVID world, you’d expect those numbers to increase. Skills like blockchain, the Internet of Things, AI and machine learning, data science, augmented reality and software development will be the skills that shape the post-COVID world. The good news is, many of these don’t require enormous investments of time and money to learn. In fact, many future-proof tech skills can be gained through online learning modules.   


3. Data literacy


Data has been described as the fuel of the fourth industrial revolution—and for good reason. With good data, companies can better understand consumers and the efficacy of their own platforms. They can market better, sell smarter, work more efficiently. All of which have become incredibly important post-COVID, when budgets are shrinking, work has moved online, and consumer habits are changing week-by-week. Professionals with good data literacy skills, and some basic learning in data science or analysis, will be an asset to any company, in almost any department. Marketing, sales, IT, project management, human resources—they all rely on quality data, and professionals who know how to harness it.


4. Innovation


Crises breed innovation, but innovation is also the key to surviving crises. The future belongs to the bold and the creative. Industries who try to weather the COVID storm with ‘business as usual’ will quickly become obsolete—we’re seeing it already. In a 2020 McKinsey survey, more than 90% of executives said they expected the fallout from COVID-9 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years. If companies can foster an internal culture of innovation, they’ll be at a huge advantage. They’ll be able to adapt to meet shifting customer needs, spot opportunities as they arise, and leverage new growth channels. Australian start-up Mr Yum is a great example: once a simple QR-driven menu app, they pivoted during the pandemic to online food delivery, full digital menus and COVID-safe hospitality integration. The platform growth was exponential. In April 2021, Mr Yum received an $11 million seed boost to take their tech stack global.


5. Digital leadership


In a post-COVID world, businesses are looking for professionals who can lead Agile teams, streamline existing tech, and survive massive digital disruption. Professionals like that will be worth their weight in gold. McKinsey has already found that organisations who invest in leadership are 2.4 times more likely to hit their performance targets, and yet Capgemini surveys found only 54% of companies believe they have the leadership skills to drive successful change. Digital Leadership is a complex mix of creativity, quick decision-making, tech savviness and communication. And it can be taught. This won’t just be a crucial skill for managers, but for all employees—businesses will need everyone to develop customer-centric mindsets and influence structural change, from the top-down and the bottom-up.

“The skills you need to thrive in a modern digital business are the same as those of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes,” Dalton says. “These are: acute observation, following the clues and tiny details, using facts to develop insight, and always learning and evolving.”


To find out more about Digital LeadershipAgile and emerging areas like Product Management, check out all of our short courses here.

This article was originally published on 1 August 2021