The World Economic Forum has published a series of reports that document the growing importance of soft skills in the workplace. These aptitudes are particularly important in fast-growing industries such as information and communications technology, health care, and information services that rely on employees’ collaborative and adaptive capabilities.

Closing the skills gap will require much more than additional technical training. Employers increasingly want new hires to have a set of foundational skills that have been shown to be central to success. Anticipating the jobs landscape in 2022, the World Economic Forum identified 20 essential employability skills, or EESs, that workers will need to cultivate in order to be effective in the fast-changing, globalized job environment of the 21st century.

The following cross-cutting, real-life skills will be the most in demand:

  • Critical thinking, such as the ability to look skeptically at received ideas and data
  • Cognitive flexibility, including the ability to think creatively and adapt to change
  • Analytical thinking by grasping underlying meaning and patterns in data
  • Ability to communicate effectively in writing
  • Emotional intelligence

Intriguingly, a study by LinkedIn identified similar “human skills” – those skills that still provide us with a competitive advantage over machines – to be vital to success. They include all those listed above, but expand the list to include creativity and innovation, complex problem-solving, time management, service orientation, and leadership. Forbes adds active learning with a growth mindset, judgment and decision-making, diversity and cultural intelligence, and the ability to embrace change as make-or-break soft skills. As companies divide up labor differently and shift to the automation of routine tasks, these skills will enable graduates to augment the work of machines with confidence rather than fear being replaced by them.

Mastering soft skills is not that simple however, as they are by definition more subjective in nature than technical skills and often more challenging to develop. They prepare students for jobs that don’t exist, for technologies that haven’t been invented, and for problems that aren’t on anyone’s radar. IFC’s Vitae helps universities define such essential skills in accordance with the institution’s values and priorities, set benchmarks for improving their delivery, and prepare their graduates to work in dynamic settings.

The concept is to encourage universities to gauge their success in developing these less tangible yet essential skills in their students as core to their long-term employability strategies. This requires a change in mindset for faculty so they develop capabilities in others in addition to conveying content. Only then can students unleash their full potential and become more resourceful, responsive, and resilient contributors to their communities and the world.