Ten skills needed for a 2020 workforce

The list of professional proficiencies soon to become indispensable for the world of work includes a broad range of creative and flexible skill sets


In four years time, the top 10 skills that successful professionals will need are:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity 
  4. People management 
  5. Coordinating with others 
  6. Emotional intelligence 
  7. Judgement and decision making 
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

As compared to the top ten skills in 2015, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility are the newest skills out of the list.

Life coach Paula Quinsee explains the relevance of these two qualities and why they cannot be ignored. Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use this emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.  Cognitive flexibility is described as the mental ability to switch between thinking and concepts as well as to think about multiple concepts simultaneously. This can also be disguised as mindfulness,” she explains.

“The higher we climb the corporate ladder, the more important these skill sets become as it’s all about managing people and relationships and less about technical skills. If you want to be successful in your personal and professional arena, then acquiring the skills to manage people and relationships is key. This means developing emotional awareness and the ability to adapt to ever changing environments and situations, and also manage the elements that come with that such as conflict management, effective communication, leading and influencing, coaching and mentoring,” Quinsee says.

Having mastered these traits, Quinsee says the jobs in spaces such as the digital sector are endless. “In an ever-evolving global world, more jobs will be conducted off-site or via remote access. This will require the ability to communicate effectively via various channels (e.g. digital networks), manage teams that are scattered around the globe and deliver on projects and tasks by several teams and areas of expertise. Some of the jobs to look out for would be those that can be run and managed in a global and or digital environment like project managers, software developers, freelancers, online transacting (products and services), entrepreneurship and healthcare, to mention a few.”

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Life and career coach Khanya Matlala says taking into account all these qualities, there are several ways in which high school learners can prepare themselves. “First off, make confident, wise subject choices, because those subject choices are going to make a huge impact in Grades 11 and 12. A student in Grade 9 needs to ask the following questions:

  • What do you think you are good at?
  • What type of careers are you interested in?
  • What subjects are you good at?
  • What physical activities are you good at?
  • What subjects do you actually enjoy?
  • What topics out there immediately get your attention?
  • Are you currently downloading information that is future focused?

"Make confident, wise subject choices, because those subject choices are going to make a huge impact in Grades 11 and 12"


Even though the internet can give you all the answers you require to make informed choices, Matlala says involving your parents can also add value to choosing your future career. 

“The internet can be overwhelming and confusing. Wherever your parents work, there are people in IT, sales, marketing, etc. As much as possible, talk to your parents about what you are thinking of pursuing as a career, and get them to put you in touch with their friends, colleagues and relatives who can potentially advise you further." 

To prepare yourself skillfully for future job opportunities, Quinsee and Matlala share some insight. “Never stop learning or gaining experience and exposure even if that is on a voluntary basis. Never be afraid to try because making mistakes is part of learning and growing,” says Quinsee.

“Build a connection between yourself and that career. Follow relevant people on social media to see what new things they are doing in their careers. If you are really interested in makeup, then you should be following people on Instagram, looking at what they are doing. It’s a new way of learning, and going beyond the textbooks,” Matlala says.