Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work
We know that digital and AI technologies are transforming the world of work and that today’s workforce will need to learn new skills and learn to continually adapt as new occupations emerge. We also know that the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this transformation. We are less clear, however, about the specific skills tomorrow’s workers will require.
Research by the McKinsey Global Institute has looked at the kind of jobs that will be lost, as well as those that will be created, as automation, AI, and robotics take hold. And it has inferred the type of high-level skills that will become increasingly important as a result.1 The need for manual and physical skills, as well as basic cognitive ones, will decline, but demand for technological, social, and emotional, and higher cognitive skills will grow.
Governments are keen to help their citizens develop in these areas, but it is hard to devise curricula and the best learning strategies without being more precise about the skills needed. It is difficult to teach what is not well defined.
We, therefore, conducted research that we hope will help definitions take shape and could contribute to future-proof citizens’ skills for the world of work.2 The research identified a set of 56 foundational skills that will benefit all citizens and showed that higher proficiency in them is already associated with a higher likelihood of employment, higher incomes, and job satisfaction.3
Defining foundational skills for citizens
Some work will, of course, be specialized. But in a labor market that is more automated, digital, and dynamic, all citizens will benefit from having a set of foundational skills that help them fulfill the following three criteria, no matter the sector in which they work or their occupation:
- add value beyond what can be done by automated systems and intelligent machines
- operate in a digital environment
- continually adapt to new ways of working and new occupations
We used academic research and McKinsey’s experience in adult training to define what these foundational skills might be (Exhibit 1). We started from four broad skill categories—cognitive, digital, interpersonal, and self-leadership—then identified 13 separate skill groups belonging to those categories.4 Communication and mental flexibility are two skill groups that belong to the cognitive category, for example, while teamwork effectiveness belongs to the interpersonal category.