What are the key skillsets needed in today’s knowledge economy?

17 July 2017

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” -Isaac Asimov

When I speak at mentoring sessions to students and startups, one constant question I am asked is the skillset needed to succeed in today’s technology dominated world. This seemingly straightforward question does not have a straightforward answer. We are knee-deep in a knowledge economy, and this is forcing us to revisit our core beliefs about the skillsets we need to hire/acquire.

The Industrial economy’s mantra was efficiency and quality. A knowledge based digital economy means that these are no longer critical skillsets. Building new skillsets is indeed a humongous challenge for business owners, executives, HR directors, professionals and universities alike.

So what skillsets does the knowledge economy demand? 

The world in the knowledge economy will be dominated by numerous digital technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Automation, etc. To be effective in this world, core skills in the field of mathematics, language, information communication technologies, etc. will no longer be enough. These skills must be augmented with the foundational skills like problem solving, critical thinking, curiosity, and persistence, etc.  World Economic Forum classifies the skillsets relevant for the knowledge economy as:

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Image courtesy: World Economic Forum

Related: Building a Happier Workforce with AI

Skillset Versus Mindset in the knowledge economy

If you look at the image above, those skillsets that come under foundational literacies and competencies can be generally acquired via education, training and on-the-job projects. But the skillsets under the third column – character qualities – is the new landscape in which businesses and professionals need to excel in. I would like to call these character qualities under a different name – MINDSET. And mindsets are definitely harder to train for, or acquire. It is precisely why these skills are a precious resource, and the reason why today’s professional has to really work hard to master them.

Let us take an example to understand why traits like curiosity, critical thinking, persistence, and collaboration are highly relevant in the knowledge economy. Any digital application you access these days like Maps, Facial Recognition, Voice Assistance, etc. is not a standalone atomic solution. These applications are an intelligent combination of diverse solutions. A recent Harvard Business Review article defined the design of voice assistance like Siri, Google Now or Alexa as following:

“AI program divides the audio into chunks, sends them into the cloud, analyzes them to determine their probable meaning and translates the result into a set of search queries. Then millions of possible answers to those queries are sorted and ranked. Thanks to the scalability of the cloud, this takes just a few dozen milliseconds.”

To envision, design, architect, and implement a solution where multiple technologies from diverse fields come together to create value, hard skills like mathematical ability, statistical knowledge and other subject matter expertise must be augmented with the foundational skills like problem solving, curiosity, communication, collaboration, persistence, and creativity.

The challenge that faces business owners today

Training our employees for these mindsets is not an HR role. Nor is it the responsibility of colleges, universities or governments. It is also not a typical learn-once and forget-it approach. These mindsets require the right environment, supported by management policies, willing professionals who are ready to dedicate time and effort, and a feedback mechanism that provides positive incentives repeatedly for the right actions.

Moreover, each company focuses on different mindsets that help them succeed. It is impossible to have a general list of mindsets for every company. It is easier to recruit, hire and train your employees for mindsets based on your corporate vision and culture. For instance, at Suyati, we focus on fostering three mindsets that we believe is critical for our success:  Continuous Innovation, Ownership, and Customer Delight.

The following statement by Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart Doug McMillon in a recent shareholder meeting succinctly describes how we all should prepare for this shift to the knowledge economy:

“No doubt our work will be different in the future —robots, drones and algorithms will do some work that we used to have to do. Some people are afraid of what these changes will bring. I don’t think we should be. Instead, I think we should recognize that we’ll be able to learn, grow and change together.”


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