10 Key Competencies of the 21st Century: What to Teach And What to Learn


Recently I took part in Career Days and made a presentation for university students and graduates. I had to give them a piece of advice about their future career.

While preparing for the event I had to study new professions that appeared in the past several years. I focused mainly on key competencies that employees would need in the following 10-20 days.

Today knowledge and skills (as separate elements)become obsolete quite fast that is why the approach based on competencies is a more forward-looking one. It allows to see the picture strategically and maintain high flexibility.

In this article, I would like to share my view on the key competencies that will be in demand most of all in the nearest future. The level of their development will define the person’s competitiveness in the labour market and will mean the most efficient management of the current human capital for the company.

Competency 1.  Systems thinking

Today having certain knowledge or seeing your “place of the chain” clearly is not enough to be successful. One needs to switch to the type of thinking that embraces the whole system, form such systems from separate elements and allows to see how certain changes affect the key processes. From fragmentary perception, we switch to working with systems, building and maintaining connectivity in the work. Today we are already dealing with constant changes, so the ability to see the interrelationships of different elements will lead to significant breakthroughs in the work.


Competency 2. Intersectoral communication

More and more professions and projects appear at the intersection of several areas. To solve many tasks, we need people who are good at multiple spheres of knowledge. They can create unexpected, unique, breakthrough solutions. This skill also allows to learn faster, take the best of different spheres and provides development within own sphere. The specialist in big data in HR is one of the professions of the future.  It will require the knowledge of Maths, IT-systems as well as the understanding of key aspects of working with the personnel. By the way, specialists working on managing the employer brand also work on the intersection of two spheres – communications and staff management. In future, the demand for interdisciplinary approaches will only increase.

Competence 3. Project and process Management

Project management is becoming an increasingly common approach in business, so it will be necessary to have competencies that allow you to take the responsibility not only for your work and for performing certain tasks.  Today a specialist of any level can be in the role of a person responsible for the whole project (and this project can be outside the field of his or her professional specialization). It will hardly require being certified, but the understanding of the principles, approaches and the ability to apply them in practice will be needed for an ever wider range of employees.

Competence 4. Working with IT systems

If you are going to work for a large company, then the skill of working in SAP will be your advantage. And this is not the only example. In the future, we will have to master the various IT systems that systematize our work and processes. Using IT systems will become mandatory like the skill of working in MS Office today.

Competence 5. Focus on customers

A growing number of companies develop the employees’ ability to listen and hear each other. The NPS indexes, which measure the work of various departments (primarily servicing), have become quite a common practice. A modern system administrator should be able to explain a dummy the basics of work and do it correctly and efficiently. Personnel must quickly draw up all the documents, and the accountant must provide the necessary calculations and payments. You will need to be able not only to do this but also communicate correctly with your client. So the bet on emotional intelligence is still relevant.

Competence 6. Working with people and teamwork

Processes become so complex that it will be impossible to perform most tasks alone. Some of the companies have already embarked on the development of empathy and skills of working in a team (which can include both those who make you want to hug them and those who are much less like-minded people), this direction will remain the leading one of corporate training.

Competence 7. Work in uncertain conditions

And what else can you expect from the VUCA world? Ability to work in a situation where only changes are permanent. Fortunately, the generation Y already has this skill. Uncertainty is comfortable for them and they easily cope with it. But we – the generation X – will learn to love the uncertainty and its “black swans”.

Competence 8. Multiculturalism and openness

Diversity is the main trend in the world of large international business. It turned out that if you look at the problem from different angles, the probability to find a nontrivial solution is several times higher. But this requires an open mind, the ability to listen and hear alternative ideas, to perceive them, to be flexible. Since the best ideas can appear in different parts of the world, the team should include representatives of different countries and cultures. It will take the ability to find an approach to other people, accept them and use their skills to solve business problems.

Competence 9. Awareness

Awareness is the key competence of the XXI century. It allows you to develop the skill of introspection, make a conscious choice, understand your own and other people’s peculiarities. It helps to concentrate on the present and see the future at the same time. This competence, which makes us more efficient and, at the same time, happier, allows us to listen to ourselves and ensure balance and harmony in our own lives.

Competence 10. Communication

The Internet broke the borders and made the economy truly global. Therefore, we will communicate with a large number of people from different parts of the globe. The new business will require making new contacts to move forward by exchanging ideas. At the same time, we must learn to communicate our thoughts and achieve our goals at a distance, be able to appreciate every contact and such an important “currency” of our time as attention. Every business person needs this competence, and it will become even more important in the near future.

I hope that my expert evaluation of the above competencies will be useful for you in planning both personal development and training programs in your organization. And I hope that some of these competencies will develop in high school and school, and the ability to “listen” will cease to be the main skill of the graduate.