Skills of the future

What are the skills needed in the future workplace in 2020 and beyond? This was the question I sought to answer in front of about a hundred recruiters from various companies during the RecruiTech: Recruitment and Technology Forum organized by Asia Select.

While these technologies, especially AI, threatens to replace jobs through automation, certain soft skills will become indispensable and cannot be replaced by robots. Distilling from the list propounded by the World Economic Forum (WEF), I enumerate six requisite skills by 2020 and beyond.

Complex problem-solving
This is the most desired skill to have by 2020, which is defined by WEF as the capacity “to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.” Organizations will go through fast-changing settings brought about by technology and new ways of working, such that employees will need to handle uncertainties in different situations. They need to see the big picture, understand relationships of variables, and define alterative solutions to a problem.

The WEF report says “[m]ore than one third (36%) of all jobs across all industries are expected by our respondents to require complex problem-solving as one of their core skills.”

Critical thinking
Employers lament over the fact that the crop of graduates we have now lack critical thinking — the skill in using logic and reasoning, being able to use these to interrogate an issue or problem, generate alternative solutions to the problem, and consider the pros and cons of each approach.

This is the main skill I endeavour to develop among my students in graduate school — by challenging students’ thinking, engaging them in debate, and even confusing them with radical solutions to a problem. Our educational system has a lot to do to develop this skill in the future generations.

The complexity of the future requires employees to connect the dots with seemingly disparate information, consider all the ideas together, and present something fresh. A skill in tandem with complex problem solving, this requires openness of the mind to new ideas to build new ones.

This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, specifically customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders in an organization. The complexity of the future will bring out new stress levels among people, and this skill among employees will help bring out the best customer experience or employee engagement.

People management
With potentially AI replacing jobs in the workplace, and new stress levels come out, it’s vital that managers and team leaders know how to motivate their team members, maximize their productivity, coach their staff, and respond to their needs.

Cognitive flexibility
This is the mental ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously. This requires employees to grasp Peter Senge’s mental models — conceptual frameworks consisting of generalizations and assumptions that affect how we view the world and act in it; but multiple mental models for that matter.

With advances in digital technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nano-biotechnology, internet-of-things, and others, digital transformation creates value impact to society in four areas, as outlined by the World Economic Forum:

Industry impact through value addition from new products and services and value migration from shifting profit pools;


Labor impact through net job creation, income growth, income disparity, injuries and accidents avoidance


Consumer benefits through time savings and cost savings


Environment and society impact through lives saved, reduction in carbon emissions, prolonged life expectancy, and physical and food security

How digitalization can benefit society is through startups and enterprises that innovate on products and services to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Several of them have already created value impact to the SDGs, namely:

Zero hunger- KDC Agribusiness, a U.S. company founded in 2015 uses patented technology which can convert over 15 tons of fresh food waste into liquid, organic fertilizer and animal feed in just three hours, enabling a sustainable food production and security,


Good health and well-being- A local startup, Medifi, provides online consolations on-demand by connecting to doctors at the convenience of one’s home,


Quality education- another local startup, is a social enterprise in the education technology sector that connects students to education opportunities through an online platform and promotes career awareness among the Filipino youth.


Affordable and clean energy – San Francisco-based startup, Angaza offers a comprehensive Pay-As-You-Go platform which is used by manufacturing and distribution companies around the world to sell transformative renewable energy products to the next billion off-grid consumers.


Clean water and sanitation – OptiEnz Sensors, a U.S. firm, has developed breakthrough technology for making real-time decisions with biosensors based on a combination of enzymes and fiber optic technology providing real-time continuous measurement results for use in waste water treatment, and other manufacturing


Responsible consumption and production, industry innovation, and climate action – startup Sponge Inc, developed a reusable, carbon based material that is super hydrophobic and oleophilic which repels water and absorbs any oil based contaminants allowing it to be used for the clean-up of all types of water including an effective solution for deep sea cleaning.


Peace, justice, and strong institutions – local company, MyLegalWhiz, is a platform that provides ready and on demand legal resource for individuals, institutions, and enterprises


Life below water, life on land – Jaguza, uses a livestock monitoring app based on artificial intelligence and IoT that aims to improving livestock production in Uganda.
These are just some of the startups and enterprises that use digital technologies to address social issues and contribute to the sustainable development of nations. Digital transformation is a compelling national platform to create social impact.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at


Reynaldo C. Lugtu Jr. is the Managing Director of The Engage Philippines, digital marketing and customer engagement solutions company. an information and communications technology firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He is also an Adjunct Faculty of the Asian Institute of Management.