Soft Skills, Self-development and the Future of Work

On this page you will find links to information and resources about learning, transferable skills and preparing for the modern workplace.

Disruption of education and the workplace as we know it

The 4th Industrial Revolution - What is it, exactly?


Buzz words * Terminology * New concepts

Some interesting new words and concepts are being used in relation to the modern workplace and the Future of Work.

The gig economy is characterised by freelance, flexible, on-demand work rather than the more traditional nine-to- five working model. Instead of being paid a regular salary, workers are paid for each ‘gig’ they do, such as a car journey, food delivery or a cleaning job. 

The gig-economy also relies more on someone’s ability to complete the work, and does not place as much importance on the educational background of the freelancer. It is giving higher value to the quality of work rather than the degree. Therefore, the need for continuous learning and performance improvement is stronger than ever.

Freelance professionals are also on the rise - people who have typically worked in a big firm and have the required expertise and qualifications, but they have opt to work on a project basis. Sometimes they work as independent sole-traders, sometimes through an agency or "network" firm. We can expect to see increasing numbers of freelancers, small firms and network firms working alongside big firms - sometimes in competition with them, sometimes in collaboration. There is benefit to companies in having access to more experienced, focused professional support.  

‘Skills” refer to a specific ability to do a specific task in specific way in a specific environment. It is preferable to look at (human) capabilities that are critical to accelerate learning and improve performance, such as curiosity, imagination, creativity, EQ, social intelligence. When our competition is with technology rather than fellow humans, different skills and abilities will dominate the job market. Degrees which prepare learners for complex problem-solving and creative outcomes will stand out. 

'Soft skills' are attributes that are not job-specific, as opposed to hard skills such as technical knowledge and abilities. Soft skills are therefore transferable skills and in high demand in any work setting. Soft skills include things like being able to get along with the people in the office and on a team by being a considerate colleague and human being. (Emotional Intelligence)

Examples include:
• Critical and innovative thinking
• Inter-personal skills (e.g. presentation and communication skills, organizational skills, listening, leadership, teamwork, "leveraging diversity", etc.)
• Intra-personal skills (e.g. self-discipline, enthusiasm, adaptability, perseverance, self-motivation, punctuality, etc.)
• Global citizenship (e.g. tolerance, openness, respect for diversity, intercultural understanding, etc.)
• Media and information literacy such as the ability to locate and access information, as well as to analyse and evaluate media content  (UNESCO 2014c)



 “Upskilling is not the same as reskilling, a term associated with short-term efforts undertaken for specific groups (e.g., retraining steelworkers in air-conditioning repair or locksmithing). Reskilling doesn’t help much if there are too few well-paying jobs available for the retrained employees. An upskilling effort, by contrast, is a comprehensive initiative to convert applicable knowledge into productive results — not just to have people meet classroom requirements, but to have them move into new jobs and excel at them. It involves identifying the skills that will be most valuable in the future, the businesses that will need them, the people who need work and could plausibly gain those skills, and the training and technology-enabled learning that could help them — and then putting all these elements together.”

[Probst and Scharff, Partners at PwC: A Strategist’s Guide to Upskilling]

The third wave of intelligence after IQ and EQ is CxQ.

Connectional Intelligence is having multiple streams of shared value. 

It is the connection of seemingly unrelated networks to get big things done today - to drive innovation and breakthrough results by harnessing the power of relationships and networks. It is not only about sharing new ideas. It’s about the ability to design ideas or problems in a way that will influence and excite others to want to pitch in and solve them.

The 5 C's of Connectional Intelligence: Curiosity (learning even from unrelated fields), Community (quality, not quantity), Combination (ability to take value from different contacts and combine it into shared value for everyone), Combustion (diverse connections), Courage (confidence in our ideas and the value for the group). - Toyin Ademola.   

Connectional intelligence recognizes that leaps in creativity and progress cannot be achieved in solitude. They require forming relationships, wielding influence well, and sharing a vision so compelling that others adopt it as their own. 

Millennials are, in a sense, pioneers in an intelligence that comes so naturally to them. They understand that connectivity is an ever-present reality on the job and off the clock. They don’t resist that fact, but they use it to their advantage. But they also understand its pitfalls and know how to ingeniously leverage its strengths. (Erica Dhavan)

"Leveraging diversity" is shaping up to be a top transferable leadership skill.

Studies show that teams in which people approach problems from different angles − some prioritising discovering new things and others preferring to draw on what they already know − outperform teams in which people are cognitively alike. To profit from diversity, workplaces need to support people to see beyond stereotyping and recognise the value in difference.

(Amy Edmondson) In the strongest teams people speak candidly and “engage in productive conflict” in order to learn from each other.

(John Hagel) Embrace productive friction (“sparring”) – don’t avoid it.  Learn through challenging one another, but respectfully. Diversity helps with this – but not if saying to them “follow the leader and imitate the leader” – that is losing the benefit of different perspectives.

John Hagel, Co-Chairman, Center for the Edge, Deloitte

It is not any more about ‘training programmes’ – which is about sharing existing knowledge. It is more valuable to create new knowledge – which happens as you confront unexpected problems and discover approaches to create more value. This type of learning comes through actions – applying ideas and through the results, refine to get more impact. So it is not classroom learning, but learning in the work environment.

Such learning will be faster and more effective in a tightly knit small work group than as individuals.

Degree education will undergo a transformation. It is only a matter of time. Full-time programmes will fade out, giving way to continuous learning. 

  • Relevance: In a typical four-year degree, by the time students come out of the institute, they realise their interest areas have changed or work requirements have evolved.
  • Education needs to be more dynamic to a learner’s interest and the industry’s requirement.
  • Learners will prefer continuous development programmes which can integrate with work. It is becoming easier for employers to assess skills and attitudes of employees, rather than depend on their degrees and interviews. Twenty-first century skills have become more important than possessing information, which can be found on the internet.

A study of 101 failed start-ups has revealed that the no. 1 reason for failing was tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need, noted in 42% of cases.

One of the participants wrote,
“Startups fail when they are not solving a market problem. We were not solving a large enough problem that we could universally serve with a scalable solution. We had great technology, great data on shopping behavior, great reputation as a though leader, great expertise, great advisors, etc, but what we didn’t have was technology or business model that solved a pain point in a scalable way.”

Remote workers are not the same as freelancers or independent contractors. They may be employed, but not present at a centralised company premises all the time.

They need not be completely absent from a workplace, but instead of commuting every day, might come into an office once or twice for face-to-face meetings. 

Remote workers don’t always have to work from home either. People who find it difficult to mix work and home life in the same physical space, often frequent cafes, libraries, satellite offices, or co-working spaces.

Remote work might also increase opportunities of employment for  groups that aren’t able to commute to an office every day, such as people with caring responsibilities, people with disabilities and those living in outlying areas or who have transport difficulties.

Information and Resources

Click on the cards below to open up a variety of articles, links and resources about that particular topic. It is updated regularly.


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