Essential 21st Century Skills for the Future

Written by Dr Karen Deller of Chartall Business College

Workforce Holdings and our group of companies offers a wide range of leading human capital solutions. Our array of businesses are organised into clusters, and our Training and Consulting Cluster is of particular importance when it comes to upskilling.

Within the Training and Consulting Cluster, Chartall Business College is an innovative and thoroughly modern provider of education and training. Accredited courses offered by Chartall include a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree, numerous financial and personal development short courses, and many more certified offerings. Chartall’s Academic Director, Dr Karen Deller, has shared her insight into what skills we need to successfully navigate the future of business.

There is little doubt that our working world is very different from the one in place before COVID-19 turned our daily routine upside down. The people that adapted well to the upset, social distancing, and new way of work were, simply, the ones who had the skills necessary to more easily deal with the change, the remoteness, the time challenges, and the lack of face-to-face communication than others.

Even before the COVID pandemic made us rethink our skill sets, researchers, futurists, and armchair bloggers were telling us

to rethink our approach to lifelong learning. Just google ‘21st century skills’ or ‘4th IR skills” and you will get list after list of their predictions for the necessary skills of the future. All recommending that every one of us develop these skills to remain recruitable, relevant, and retained in sustainable employment.

Why the change in skills needed?

The need has come about as a result of the world having transitioned through a series of “industrial revolutions” – the first was brought about by steam (which enabled large scale manufacturing), the second influenced by the discovery of electricity (which enabled production lines), and the third was built on computerisation (which gave us faster processing and global communication).

Each revolution brought with it new ways of doing things, new ways of working, and each demanded new skills. Now, we find ourselves in the fourth industrial revolution, which is rapidly evolving into the new fifth IR, right before our eyes. According to PWC (2018)* the fourth IR is about “merging of the capabilities of both human and machine.” This is the revolution characterised by artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptocurrencies, biometrics, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things. The fourth industrial revolution is faster and more rapid than any of the previous revolutions and it demands increasingly more skills from us to simply remain in the same place. With the fifth IR around the corner, more skills will soon be required of us to adapt and remain relevant in the working world.

Why do we need to develop our skills?

Because of the rapid pace of change in this 4th IR, there is a real risk that many people will simply stay behind. Mostly because

they do not have the skills to stay engaged and employable. This thinking was the basis for the lists of ‘21st century skills’ that you can find on the internet. These are real skills that real people need to navigate the 4th IR world. Most lists include the following (some have slightly different names, but is, at its core, the same skill):

  1. Adaptability and flexibility
  2. Co-ordinating with others
  3. Coping with change
  4. Creativity
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Digital literacy
  7. Emotional intelligence
  8. Innovation
  9. Service orientation
  10. Train your brain


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