Prerequisite for building job skills in a 21st century world: Commitment to lifelong learning

In the ‘workplace of today’ we need to develop specific skills to survive, and ultimately thrive. Over the years there has always been interest in identifying the traits that distinguish between individuals and their levels of work performance. Interest has also been placed on traits that enable individuals to be successful in different work areas versus others, for example ‘what traits make some entrepreneurs successful, while others are just not able to crack it?

We have all seen how we have had to stretch ourselves with our new working arrangements, and it further supports what we have been saying for years – that the 21st century workplace skills look very different. Previously a great deal was placed on, for example, dependability, conscientiousness, planfulness and quality of work (to name a few). The focus has moved away from ‘just the skills-sets that ensure the job gets completed’ to employees possessing the skills that enable them to adapt to whatever life throws at them.

In a Forbes article written by Bernard Marr that I read during lockdown,  “8 Job Skills To Succeed In A Post-Coronavirus World” were discussed:

  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Tech Savviness
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Data Literacy
  • Critical Thinking
  • Digital and Coding Skills
  • Leadership
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Commit to a Lifetime of Learning (Continuous learning)

Reviewing these, I initially saw that the elements form two types of overall skill sets that I would describe as soft skills and ability. I instantly wondered about the ranking of the skills, as I identified the most crucial skill to be that of continuous learning, however this was only mentioned at the end of the article. Reviewing all the other skills, I believed that they in fact depended on an individual being open to continuously learning. And as I carried on reviewing the list, I began to see how each of the skills fit together in a framework

The framework allows one to see how each element is linked to one or more of the others, with continuous learning being the prerequisite. I also became aware of a large gap, that of the need for team support. I defined this as slightly different from the generic teamwork definition. Rather I thought of it as “the ability to rely on, reach out to and gain support and assistance from colleagues when your own skill set was not meeting the requirements of the task, or you required someone to soundboard options or ideas with”.

Having created this framework, I was able to start thinking about tips that could assist people in order to start honing their job skills for the 21st century:

  • Commitment to lifelong learning

In order to develop and enhance yourself, you have to be open to being developed and stretched. You have to be open to reading your environment, to enhancing your style, to capatalising on opportunities, to thinking outside of the box, to learning to do something differently or learning something from scratch.

With that being said, we are not operating alone in our work environment and most individuals are part of a team, or at least part of a work group. Hence, intrinsically the nature of organisations ensures that we have a support network that we can tap into. Remote work arrangements and social distancing may at times encourage silo mentality, however we need to capatalise on our team strengths to be able to deal with the volatile environment we operate within.

We need to realise that we don’t need to develop and enhance our skills in a vacuum, we can also learn from each other in order to bolster our own continuous learning journey.


Tip: When you are feeling overwhelmed or have reached an obstacle you cannot surmount, think of a work colleague or teammate that you can soundboard with. Reach out to them to see if they can help. Sometimes they may not be able to provide advice, but the act of you talking through your thinking with someone will help you towards resolution.


  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

For years statistics have said that EQ is just as important as IQ with regards to the links to job performance and work productivity. Now, more so than ever EQ relates to individual wellbeing. Being emotionally intelligent means you are resilient as well, that you can manage stress and pressure without buckling. It also talks about being able to adapt to your surroundings.

  • Adaptability and Flexibility

Often, we stick to our tried and tested methods because they are familiar and have proven to work in the past. However, volatile times mean predictable ways of operating are not always appropriate for managing changing circumstances. We need to think creatively and innovatively and then be open to adapting and flexing ourselves to meet the demands placed on us.

Remember even our computers need to get a new operating system every so often, or they would not be able to cope with the increased demands we place on them.

Tip: When you find yourself reverting to your comfortable methods, challenge yourself to ask if that method is still the most appropriate or if you should think a bit more out of the box. As mentioned previously, reach out to your colleagues and get their opinion too.

To develop flexibility and out of the box thinking you need to open your mind to hearing something new – it may spark a different way of thinking inside you.

Tip: Be open to things outside your comfort zone:

Read articles on different topics; Ask questions you do not know the answer to and get the answer; Don’t be afraid to ask why – ask it more; Be curious.

From an EQ perspective, when you feel negatively towards or apprehensive about a proposed change, pause and reflect on where that feeling is coming from and what triggered it. Challenge yourself to consider if it would be that bad to try a different approach, or could a new approach possibly make your life easier?

  • Critical thinking

One would think this skill is more difficult to develop than the softer elements, however if you have developed the ability to be open to always learning and asking why, you have begun building the foundation towards enhanced critical thinking.

That being said, it is a skill that is difficult to master. Even some of the most successful individuals can, and have been publicly judged for decisions they made that were not deemed sensible or well thought out. Again, remember you are not an Island, use your team member’s expertise to assist you in making difficult or critical decisions. The complexity of the working world has increased, hence the need for more decision makers being involved in problem solving should increase too.

Tip: Develop your own ‘Think Tank’ by considering which colleagues have strengths that you could tap into when dealing with a decision. Proactively connect with them and discuss if they would be happy to assist you and discuss how it would practically be implemented.

  • Data and Tech Savviness

Yet again, a commitment to lifelong learning will assist you in developing your technology repertoire.

Remember: If you stay committed and always open to learning, you will be more prepared for the changing work landscape and the associated demands.

By Katherine Roper
Consulting Psychologist

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