What skills do I need for the future?

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When we announced the global Student Advantage programme, it meant that students could get the full Office suite when their institution subscribed for their staff (see ‘The best way to get Office for student BYOD devices’). Part of the reason that supported doing it was some new research from IDC on skills requirements for tomorrow’s best jobs, which analysed the current and future jobs market to understand what skills employers are currently looking for, and will look for in the future.

Learn MoreSkills Requirements for Tomorrow’s Best Jobs:
Helping Educators Provide Students with Skills and Tools They Need

IDC did their analysis by scanning 14.6 million US job postings for six months this year and identified the 20 most common skills required for those positions. They also used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, including data on 2010 employment and forecasts for 2020, to understand future employment trends, and to identify 60 occupations that have above average growth potential and salary potential between 2013 and 2020.

Which roles are going to grow fastest in numbers and salary by 2020?

IDC categorised all of the data into groups of roles to produce the following chart:


So by 2020 we’re going to see more demand for people to work in medical, sales and marketing, education, IT and managerial roles. These roles in the chart are expected to account for 28% of new jobs in 2020, with a median salary that’s 51% higher than for all occupations.

What skills are needed for the high growth employment roles?

The IDC report looked at the top skills required for all occupations, and the analysis showed the top five skills employers are looking for were:

  1. Oral and written communication skills
  2. Detail oriented
  3. Microsoft Office
  4. Customer service oriented
  5. Organisational skills

It’s notable that Microsoft Office was the only software package that employers called out within the top 20 skills list. Microsoft Office is at number 3, PowerPoint is at number 11, and Word is at number 13. The full list of top 20 skills is on Page 7, Figure 2 in the IDC report.

When they correlated the top skills against the top growth occupations, they found the correlation got stronger – the top 5 skills were in even higher demand in these roles (and 16 of the top 20). The most common skills that employers are looking for are cross-functional, rather than occupation-specific skills. As IDC put it (on page 9):


This high concentration of cross-functional skills suggests that high school students require "job readiness" and not "job training" for success. The skills most needed for the best jobs cut across many occupations, so educators should consider focusing on the skills with the broadest applicability to success. In contrast, skills associated with specific occupations are less applicable for the broader occupation set, implying that they should receive less emphasis in general high school curricula.


Communication, integration and presentation skills (CIPs) are required for about 40 percent of all positions and make up 11 of the top 20 skills that are required by 39 percent of the fastest growing, highest paying positions. As Cushing Anderson, program vice president of Project-Based Services at IDC says in the report:

  Of the more than 11,000 skills we examined, it is interesting to see the play between hard and soft skills. Many of the top 20 skills reinforce the other; the skills we identified are not taken in isolation but rather are a golden set of skills that are consistently important. Seventy percent of the high-growth, high-wage occupations frequently require at least one of the top 20 skills.  

IDC make a series of really important points on Pages 14/15 about the assessment of communication, integration and presentation skills capabilities.  They assert that assessments should be used to demonstrate students’ mastery of material and help improve the teaching and learning process. And IDC calls for programs to include formative adaptive assessments, performance-based tasks to demonstrate communication, integration and presentation skills capabilities, and appropriate technologies to facilitate consistent administration and evaluation of assessments. They also caution employers that it is unrealistic to expect schools to prepare students for specific jobs or even a specific industry, and that they must assume the responsibility of training new career entrants in the job-specific skills the occupation requires.

The whole report is worth a read, both for the data points it includes, and for the help it contains for advising your students (and their parents!) about what lies around the corner in the job marketplace.

Learn MoreSkills Requirements for Tomorrow’s Best Jobs:
Helping Educators Provide Students with Skills and Tools They Need