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The Most In Demand Skills for the Future

Categories: Career Advice

My son is 5 years old. When I read how “65% of children who start their primary education today will work in jobs that have not been created yet ”, a feeling of panic immediately passed through me.

I dug deeper and was confronted with some statistics from the World Economic Forum, which came as a wake-up call:

  • In 2020, 33% of important skills were not yet considered as such just four years prior
  • By 2025, 50% of the work will be done by machines
  • By 2022, over 54% of the workforce will “require a significant re-and upskilling”

At the global level, we are currently experiencing a paradigm shift in the way we work. The virtual environment and ability to work from home are speeding up digital transformation faster than what experts had previously expected. This acceleration has created a situation where certain skills become increasingly important and much sooner than previously thought.

The skills of the future

The majority of experts who analyze digital transformation (and automation) trends believe that “softer” skills will ultimately be more important for professionals than more traditional hard skills. Therefore, business schools and universities will need to prepare for the future by becoming more agile. As search engines, AI, and other technologies replace the need for “knowing facts”, our education system will also need to change its approach. A recent study published by the University of Waterloo indicated that business schools need to equip “learners to think creatively, independently, rigorously and collaboratively in full awareness of themselves and their social context”.

But what does it all mean?

Historically, employers viewed the MBA as a great addition to a person’s academic and professional profile. Programs were supposed to cover a diverse array of topics to ensure candidates received a comprehensive overview of the business landscape. This would also ensure the ability to make sound strategic-level decisions when necessary.

Though this remains an important motivation for pursuing an MBA, new employer needs are emerging. The leaders of tomorrow must now be exposed to courses where complex problem-solving skills, creativity, and adaptability are experienced, both explicitly and implicitly. Professionals also need to increase their awareness of the complexities of digital transformation, automation, and artificial intelligence. Equipped with this knowledge base and skillset, managers can then navigate these uncharted territories with increased confidence.

According to the experts, the skills of the future are:

Skills of the Future-Creativity

1) Creativity, Innovation, and an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Creativity is the foundation of critical and innovative thought. It also aids in (complex) problem solving and “being quick on your feet”. In fact, without learning to think creatively, many of the other skills mentioned below would be irrelevant. Creativity, innovation, and an entrepreneurial mindset all have one thing in common: seeing things in a different way…or, as some call it, “outside-the-box” / “there is no box” thinking.

As the world becomes increasingly automated, managers and employees alike will be expected to generate new, original ideas throughout a variety of situations, including product launches, marketing campaigns, operating efficient supply chains, and team management. Case-in-point: when the world was thrown into self-isolation recently due to the COVID-19 crisis, managers were forced to find creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial solutions to keep their companies afloat.

Skills for the Future-learning

2) Active Learning

Since companies are hyper-aware of the urgent need for upskilling/reskilling their workforce, “self-teaching”, otherwise known as “active learning”, has become a highly sought after skill in top managers, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Professionals who have developed the habit of constantly seeking knowledge rather than settling for the theories of the past, will be able to successfully guide their teams through uncharted digital territories. But, in order to provide this support, the leaders of tomorrow will need a good grasp of digital transformation, automation, and digitization and the impacts that it can bring.


3) Adaptability, Flexibility, and Resilience

Adaptability and Flexibility

Adaptability and flexibility translate to the acceptance of changing landscapes. These skills allow one to see the opportunities, rather than to dwell on the inconveniences. As the digital transformation continues to accelerate, the mindset of “because we’ve always done it like this” will be one of the most difficult to alter in companies. This mindset isn’t new; it’s a typical reaction to change among the “laggers” in the change management process. However, it’s absolutely vital that professionals adopt a “yes, and…!’’ attitude. By accepting the changing digital landscape as a given, managers are able to lead by example, and push through the resistance to change.


Resilience is strongly linked to adaptability and flexibility. The more flexible one is, the more resilient they will become. Flexibility allows for the consideration of alternatives that would potentially help you “bounce back” from unexpected situations quicker, perhaps even stronger than before.

If we observe global trends, and how quickly the professional landscape is changing, the leaders adapting quickest to the situation will ultimately be the most resilient and successful. For example: in the current situation, Elon Musk has again proven how versatile his company is, by transforming Tesla factories into ventilator-making factories. Furthermore, sports events, which historically have been done in big groups, have been canceled around the world. The triathlon brand, “IronMan” has therefore launched a “virtual triathlon challenge” so that competitive-minded triathletes can continue fueling their motivation to train hard. Even Business Schools had to adapt quickly. At MSM, we had to change nearly over-night, from classroom teaching to “distance-learning”/ online teaching, so that our students can complete their degrees successfully and on time.

problem solving

4) Complex Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

One of the skills most regularly cited by CEO’s when posed with the question, “which skills do you expect an MBA candidate to have upon graduation?” is critical thinking/complex problem-solving.

Critical thinking is the necessary first step in this process. Daring to ask “Why?” will not only deviate from the “sheep-follower” mentality but also serves as motivation to improve on the status quo: to never settle. Keep in mind that constantly challenging the status quo leads to massive innovation and operational efficiencies within a company.

Keep in mind that the ability to solve complex problems can come from the combination of various perspectives gained during an MBA (i.e. developing “helicopter view”), as well as from other key skills. These are, namely, critical thinking (Is there a problem? What is the real problem?), active learning (finding important/missing knowledge to help solve the problem), and creativity (thinking of a solution that combines all these elements in an original way).


5) Emotional and Social Intelligence (Teamwork, Communication, Persuasion and Negotiation Skills, Compassion and Empathy, Networking, Service-Orientation)

Each and every one of the skills mentioned previously is impossible to achieve, and excel at, without emotional and social intelligence. Building a dynamic, well-balanced, and motivated team via concise clear communication, empathy, and a service-oriented mindset will be a key factor in the success of future managers and leaders. Creativity is often improved through brainstorming with colleagues. Resilience can be strengthened by others within a team and solving complex problems is best achieved when several minds come together.

Traditionally, MBA degrees put a strong focus on personal achievements and glory. In some business schools, this is still the case. However, as the digital landscape evolves, the need to focus on others, rather than oneself, will be the most essential skill to excel in the future.

Are You Eager to Develop the Skills of the Future?

Maastricht School of Management (MSM) offers three MBA formats based on the same curriculum, an Online MBA, an Executive MBA, and a Full-time MBA. Both in-class and as part of the extra-curricular program, students can develop their soft skills through group assignments, practice-oriented individual assignments, case studies, simulation games, and company visits. In addition, through MSM’s Career and Personal Development Track soft skills are developed in workshops throughout the year. Apart from MBA programs, MSM also offers short Executive Education programs for professionals who wish to develop their management and professional knowledge and skills. If you would like to know more about the MSM programs, please don’t hesitate to contact Inka Diddens from the MSM recruitment team at [email protected] or check their website www.msm.nl.

About the Author

Hermina Kooyman

Quadrilingual (English, Dutch, French, and Afrikaans), with dual citizenship (Dutch-South African), Hermina has lived, studied and worked in South Africa, Netherlands, and Belgium. Her first bachelor’s degree was a BA in Creative Therapy (Music Therapy), while her second bachelor’s degree was in International Relations and Diplomacy. In 2018, Hermina completed her Executive MBA, with a specialization in International Business Strategy.

Her career started as an International Sales officer in Liege, at TDS Office Design, in a European Export team, managing key accounts in Switzerland, UK, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France. After 7 years she moved into the education sector, and in 2015, she joined Maastricht School of Management (MSM). As Deputy Director of Global Education Programs, her main task focus lies in managing the non-academic side of things, namely enrollment, career services, alumni, student services and recruitment.

In 2018, she focused her Executive MBA thesis on MBA Employability, the growing skills gap and what business schools need to do to remain relevant. For this thesis, over 250 companies participated in the “MBA Employability Survey”.