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What soft skills will be in demand for the future workforce?

by Chloe Baird
Posted: June 16, 2021

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The workforce is changing. This is true for employers, employees and customers.  

In the wake of the COVID-10 health and economic global crises, what are the most likely changes we’re going to see for the future of the Australian workforce?

How will our thinking around work, flexibility and productivity change?

And what kind of soft skills will employers now be on the lookout for? 

A recent report from McKinsey pointed out some startling facts about the future of the workforce.  

  • Up to 25% more workers than originally expected will need to think about switching occupations.  
  • Higher cognitive skills, such as creativity and complex information processing, will be in higher demand than basic cognitive skills.  
  • The same can be said for social and emotional skills, such as leadership skills and innovation.  
  • There will be significant mindset changes that will need to start at a C-suite level.  
  • The rise of automation and AI will in part drive these changes.  

So while we can’t say for sure what the workforce will look like in one year, two years or ten years, we have some pretty good ideas which can help you prepare for the future.  

Read on to discover what the top soft skills will be for the post-COVID workforce and how you can future-proof your career.  

soft skills post pandemic

The top 5 soft skills needed for the post-COVID workforce 

While no-one can definitively predict what the future holds, we have a pretty fair idea about which skills will become essential in the post-pandemic world.  

1. Flexibility 

How do you deal with change? Are you quick to pivot and adapt, or is it difficult for you to come to terms with new arrangements? 

The pandemic taught us all that we need to be more flexible and more adaptable when it comes to embracing change. Companies that had stubbornly refused to let employees work from home suddenly had no choice. Small businesses had to quickly find ways to keep revenue coming in even if their doors were physically closed. And it was the businesses that were the quickest to react and adapt that were the most successful.  

Dealing with change – especially at work, and especially if certain procedures have been in place for a long time – can be really difficult. Some people struggle with change more than others. But one skill that employers will be on the lookout for now is flexibility. Emotional and social adaptability is more essential than ever. Because if there’s one way to stay ahead of the competition, it’s by remaining flexible in the face of change.  

2. Creativity 

Like flexibility, creativity will also be an in-demand, essential skill because employers want people who can think outside the box. You’ve proven that you can efficiently adapt to a changing situation and that you’re not one to stand in the way of progress. But being able to come up with your own creative solutions to problems that pop up without warning is just as useful as adapting to others’ changing plans.  

Some people are naturally more creative than others. Don’t feel frustrated if you feel like your colleagues are coming up with more ideas than you, because there are ways that you can try and hone your focus and start coming up with your own innovative, new ideas.  

Here’s a few tips to help you focus and improve your creative thinking: 

  • Do you work better in groups or alone? Try brainstorming with others or jotting down ideas on your own and see which works better for you.  
  • Stop negative self-talk and build your confidence. If you always censor yourself before voicing your idea because you’re worried others might dismiss it, then try to fight through that fear and do it anyway. A big part of agile working is using everything as a learning experience, whether it’s a positive or negative outcome. 
  • If you do find that you’re in a negative headspace (due to a high-pressure project, a demanding boss or client, or otherwise) try and put yourself in a more positive space first. Grab a coffee with co-workers or take five minutes to walk around the block.  
  • Be curious. Try and do as much research on a topic as possible and see if this sparks any new ideas for you. Likewise, try and find inspiration in places you might not normally look.  

3. Communication skills  

Being able to get your point across clearly, efficiently and effectively to others is a highly valuable skill. The need for strong communication skills has been amplified by the pandemic. It’s great if you’re able to adjust to change, pivot quickly and think outside the box to come up with new and innovative new work-arounds – but you also need to successfully get your awesome new ideas across to others. 

And while we come to terms with the new remote working environment, you need to ensure that you’re able to not only discuss ideas with others face-to-face, but also across different channels such as video chat, instant messaging or email. We’re all working across different platforms now, so you need to make sure that your message doesn’t get lost in the ether.  

Being an effective listener is just as important as being able to get your point across. Are you an active listener? Or do you find yourself having to chase up co-workers later because you’ve forgotten half the things they said during the meeting? Do you read emails and fully absorb all the information before shooting off a response, only to realise your question was already answered in the original email? Effective listening is important for the post-COVID workforce, as those who don’t listen well often cause double handling and blockages in the workflow. And in an age where adaptability, accuracy and speed are all important, being able to listen effectively and absorb information is tantamount for productivity.  

But what if you have trouble speaking to others, or to a group of people? Don’t stress. There are ways that you can improve your communication skills. And if your job requires you to speak to others frequently and you find that you struggle with this, maybe it’s time to consider a different role.

post pandemic workforce

4. Emotional intelligence 

Things have been really difficult for many of us. We’ve had to adjust to rapid changes, learn how to work in a completely different environment to what we’re used to and deal with feelings of isolation. Some of us have lost jobs and have been forced to quickly re-skill and switch to a new career. And some of us have lost much more than our jobs.  

Emotional intelligence (EQ) has always been a soft skill that’s been highly prized in leadership positions. Emotionally intelligent people generally have well-developed social skills and a strong sense of empathy. They are very self-aware and socially perceptive, self-motivated, and are always able to keep calm in stressful situations when others’ emotions may be running high.  

Empathy is a big part of emotional intelligence. Having a strong sense of empathy is integral in understanding the challenges others are facing, and why they might act a certain way. 

Being emotionally intelligent is also a factor in having good communication skills – you’re able to get your point across to others in a calm and rational way even if the tension is high; and you’re able to diffuse situations when you spot negative emotions while also encouraging positivity.  

5. Critical thinking 

In a world that’s rife with misleading information regarding the pandemic and awash in conspiracy theories, having critical thinking skills is now more important than ever.  

Critical thinking is all about objectively questioning, analysing and evaluating. It’s about not always taking things at face value and knowing when you should be asking the right kinds of questions. For example, how do you determine whether an article shared on social media is ‘fake news’? You use your critical thinking skills.  

The thing to remember here is that critical thinking skills aren’t about being negative or cynical. 

But how does the help businesses? In business, this skill is important when untangling tricky problems and coming to a solution. It enables you think objectively about a situation so that emotions don’t cloud your judgement. Being able to utilise critical thinking skills is important because it can save businesses time and money.  

6. Digital skills 

There’s no way to avoid it – the future is digital. And the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted this in a way that we hadn’t previously appreciated.  

As companies rushed to move their products online and set their employees up for remote working, it was made all too clear how important technology is in the world of modern-day business.  

Big data has also made a significant impact on businesses in Australia and around the world. Companies that see the value in big data can use the information gleaned to discern patterns, predict trends and make informed business decisions. Having the digital skills to collate and analyse data means that businesses can react quickly and adapt to change more easily, as they’re able to make fast yet informed decisions based on stats and evidence. 

This report from the World Economic Forum also predicts that 85 million jobs could “be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines”. That said, a potential 97 million new jobs may emerge “that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.” 

As technology continues to evolve, so too will workers will need to upskill and stay up to date with the latest trends. Digital skills – from social media expertise to cybersecurity – will be in high demand for the future workforce.  

work skills

 How to demonstrate you have the skills employers want 

Soft skills (sometimes called human-centric skills) aren’t measurable in the same way that hard or technical skills are. So how can you demonstrate to employers that you have the soft skills they want? 

The best way to do this is simply give examples.  

Straight off the bat, when you apply for a job make sure that you mention in your cover letter what skills you have and how they relate to the job. You don’t have to be blunt and tell them, “I am emotionally intelligent and have proven this through…” Instead, think of examples when you used your cognitive skills and try to thread those examples through your cover letter.  

When you get to the interview stage, some employers may ask you leading questions such as, “How have you dealt with workplace conflict?” and “How did you overcome a business challenge?” Here, you can give them examples of when you employed your soft skills.  

Where could your next career take you? 

There’s no doubt that the workforce is changing in ways that were almost unimaginable back in 2019. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for these changes.  

Upskilling and retraining are viable ways that you can stay ahead of the curve and future-proof your career.  

Not sure where to start? You can take our 7 day FREE course trial and discover what it’s like to study one of OC’s online VET courses first hand. This way, you’ll get a thorough, first-hand look at what it’s like to study online and discover if it’s the right option for you.  

Even if you’re not too sure which course to study, you can take our career quiz to help inspire you.  

What are you waiting for? Don’t let opportunity pass you by. Start planning your future today. 


Chloe Baird

Chloe is an Open Colleges alumnus who now works full time for OC as a Content and Copywriting Specialist. She is passionate about encouraging others to pursue their goals through education.

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