The 10 job skills that will be most important by 2020 – and what South Africans should focus on

‘Managing up’ is one of the most important and discussed topics in management today.

This is according to Dr Tim London, a senior lecturer at the Allan Gray Centre for Values Based Leadership at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), who describes ‘managing up’ as anticipating needs and coming up with solutions without being asked.

“In a world in which technological advancement is driving dramatic change in the workplace and the economy, managing up – which requires agility of thought and action – is a great skill to hone if you want to future-proof your career,” said London.

“One of the technology-enabled changes that is already playing out is that both the workforce and workplace are far more fluid, with more people working remotely, on contract, and on consultancy bases – a phenomenon that is tied to the rise of the gig economy.”

London added that the old ladder-style hierarchy seen in many businesses – with its clear structure of relationships – is changing.

“In the more dynamic Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), people will increasingly find that they have to work with a larger variety of people at different times, some above and some below them in terms of rank, expertise, or experience; this constant rotation means that an ability to manage up – which can mean anticipating needs and coming up with solutions without being asked – is that much more important.”


Top 10 skills 

While managing up is important in a traditional business environment, its not the only skill that South African workers will need to develop.

According to Kumeshnee West, director of Executive Education at the UCT GSB, the World Economic Forum has identified the following top 10 skills that will be most needed in 2020:

  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.

“These essential skills have long been part of most good leadership and management development programmes – and they will need to be scaled up,” she said.

Dr London agreed that agile leaders will need to be comfortable with complexity and not afraid to experiment. He further emphasises that all of these skills need to be underpinned by an orientation to life-long learning.

“The importance of learning agility cannot be over-emphasised,” he said.

“As various experts in the field of management have said, the ability to learn, be creative, develop, and grow is today’s only sustainable competitive advantage in the fast-changing world of business.”


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The 10 job skills that will be most important by 2020 – and what South Africans should focus on