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7 sought-after skills set to take 2021 by storm

16 Dec 2020

2020 has taught us that we need to keep learning. In preparation for next year, here are some technical and soft skills set to be in high demand.

Although it’s been a rollercoaster of a year, we shouldn’t forget the silver linings that came about because of it. Among them are the insights we’ve garnered about the future of work, such as what the most sought-after skills could be and how we can begin to build hybrid working models.

Overall, 2020 has been a time for constant change and learning on both a global scale and an individual level. If you’d like to keep that momentum going and upskill as we head into a new year, these are some of the areas – technical and non-technical – you should consider focusing on.

1. Adaptability

We’ve all had to be adaptable this year. Whether you’ve had to source a new job, get accustomed to working from home or stick to Government guidelines in the workplace, it’s been an inherent part of working life in 2020.

Richard Murphy, Europe’s head of the Fidelity Investments’ Centre for Applied Technology (FCAT), agrees. He said: “Given 2021 is just around the corner, I think we can look to recent trends and developments for some guidance on what will continue to be very important.

“The key skill in my mind is adaptability. It’s not a tech skill exclusively, but it is vitally important in underpinning our ability to respond proactively during rapidly changing times. Indeed, adaptability and forward-thinking are both paramount. What worked in the past to drive a company’s success is probably not solely what will drive its success in the future, so you need to be adaptable.”

At FCAT, Murphy explained, teams will continue working with new and emerging technologies next year. Staying up to date in this arena will require people who can explore new opportunities and make connections for future success.

“That exploration is not prescriptive,” he said. “We need to remain highly adaptable and be game-ready to flex to new needs in the moment as they arise.”

2. Change management

Adaptability is all about being ready for and responding to change. While this will continue to be important for every employee, key figures will have to be responsible for managing and guiding the company’s actions.

According to Hay’s global head of technology, James Milligan, change management is going to be one of the hottest jobs for tech companies next year. The ability to facilitate change will be one of the most sought-after skills, he said, as businesses continue to digitally transform and move away from “analogue” legacies.

3. Cybersecurity

Milligan also named cybersecurity as a key area of expertise for 2021. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; the cybersecurity talent shortage is an ongoing issue for businesses around the world. Companies are finding new ways to try and close the gap, an example of which is Smarttech247’s new infosec graduate programme.

And as we continue to work remotely next year – something that’s on the cards for plenty of companies – people with the skills and knowledge to galvanise protection methods will only become more important.

Milligan said: “The top priority for CEOs and business leaders right now is cybersecurity. For all its pros, the rise in remote and hybrid working creates a lot of security issues. These include user issues around behaviour and technical issues with people using their own devices as well as using company hardware but battling a huge volume of users.”

4. Data visualisation

As vice-president of architecture at Workhuman, Mark Greville is well versed in the technical skills employers need in an ever-evolving landscape. He believes data visualisation will become even more important next year and in order to embrace it, we’ll have to brush up on our knowledge of the right tools.

“Organisations will need to embrace interactive data-visualisation tools in the future,” Greville said. “We will be rethinking how we help our humans engage with the amazing insights, so these will become the norm.”

At Workhuman, for example, the research team uses data visualisation to generate “incredible insights”.

“Being able to interact with the data in new and visually appealing ways will add another level to what’s possible,” he added.

5. Emotional intelligence

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on our health and wellbeing. We’ve all had to become more compassionate towards ourselves and others this year. We shouldn’t leave those valuable lessons behind. Instead, we should always be striving for greater emotional intelligence.

This isn’t just a nice thing to do for your friends and colleagues; it’s a better business decision. Honing your emotional intelligence – or EQ – can help you handle stress in healthier ways and, ultimately, boost your career prospects.

In fact, Workhuman’s Michelle McDaid puts more stock in the EQ of her team and potential hires than IQ as a predictor of success.

6. JavaScript

Upwork is a useful resource for figuring out which skills are in demand. The freelance platform publishes data on the most sought-after skills on its site and the most recent, published in late November, hints at the types of technical knowledge employers might be looking out for next year.

JavaScript was Upwork’s most popular tech skill in 2020. This finding is consistent with JavaScript’s popularity in previous years. In 2017, a WP Engine survey of 1,000 computer programmers found that JavaScript was one of the most versatile and creative coding languages. Not only that, it was also listed as one of the easiest to learn, second only to HTML and Python.

People with knowledge of JavaScript were enlisted for a minimum of 500 different projects on Upwork this year, so it’s certainly one to keep in mind.

7. Lifelong learning

This has been a momentous year for learning and, again, we shouldn’t leave that behind. Enthusiasm for upskilling and commitment to lifelong learning are already highly sought-after skills, but Covid-19 has underscored their importance further.

Mastercard’s head of HR Ann Marie Clyne, for example, views it as a must-have for people at all stages of their careers. She wants to see “a passion for continuous learning” in job candidates.

And Jefferson Cowhig, technology transformation lead for Ireland at EY, shares the same view. “The greatest skill any of us can learn is perhaps the skill of learning itself,” he told us recently.

“Every day needs to be a school day; we all need to become lifelong learners to stay relevant and to lead.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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