New research highlights most in-demand job skills

A female student studies intently in front of her Windows Surface device.

One of the most important and toughest roles every educator plays is preparing students for their next steps. With a mission to empower every student to achieve more, we at Microsoft are constantly evaluating what skills employers are looking for, and how those skills can be effectively delivered – with the help of technology.

A new white paper, Keys to the Future: Align Workforce Readiness Skills to Ensure Student Success, helps us deliver on that mission. This research, conducted by IDC, looks at the most in-demand skills in today’s workforce, and the skills needed for tomorrow’s best jobs. (Proficiency in Microsoft Office is near the top of the list, but more on that in a minute.)

For the school leaders and teachers who are inundated with data that is meant to help them determine what skills to focus on, this research provides critical – and actionable – insights.

What the Top 20 skills reveal


IDC reviewed more than 76 million job postings, 25,000 job boards and staffing companies’ corporate Web sites — representing about 80 percent of all postings last year — to identify the positions expected to have the highest anticipated growth and wages through 2024.

What they discovered next was interesting. The top 20 most required skills across all occupations – in addition to proficiency in Microsoft Office (#4) and Microsoft PowerPoint (#16) – included oral and written communication skills, detail orientation, marketing skills, integrity and customer-service orientation.

Infographic showing proficiency in Microsoft Office to be a required skill for top jobs.

“While over the past three years we’ve seen the breadth of needed skills for jobs increase by 68 percent, we’ve also seen that communication skills, including proficiency in Microsoft Office and PowerPoint, remain vitally important for success in the workplace,” says Anthony Salcito, vice president, Worldwide Education.


A chart compares the top 10 skills for high-opportunity occupations.

This ‘Top 20’ list, including “soft” skills, have long been reinforced by Microsoft technologies, and we’ve assembled some excellent resources to help educators bring them to life in the classroom. Educators can choose from enabling transformation to building curriculum, content and assessment – and much more – it’s all available on the Microsoft Educator Community.

The broadest skills are the most sought-after


If you’re thinking that that your school or classroom already focuses on these “soft” skills, you’re probably right. Skills like critical and creative thinking, problem solving and collaboration are the foundation of curricula worldwide. They’re also at the heart of some of Microsoft’s most popular classroom tools –like OneNote, Office Mix, Sway and Skype in the Classroom.

The research does give us a new way of looking at these critical skills, though. The cross-functional nature of employers’ most required skills suggests that we focus on job-readiness, not job training. In other words, focus on skills with the broadest applicability to success.

We can think about these skills in three buckets:

  • Communication, integration, and presentation (CIP) skills. IDC found that CIP-related skills (for which Microsoft Office is the technology enabler) are required for over 40 percent of all job postings. They comprise eight of the top 20 skills required for all positions, and 10 of the top 20 for high-opportunity positions.
  • Entrepreneurialism and related skills. This category includes “self-starting/self-motivated” – the #10 most frequently required skill for high-opportunity positions.
  • Microsoft, Microsoft Office, and other software skills. IDC found that 12 percent of high-opportunity occupations call for Microsoft Office–related skills. Combined with positions explicitly requiring Microsoft Office, the percentage of tomorrow’s high-opportunity positions requiring Microsoft Office or related skills grows to nearly 20 percent.

Infographic showing top skills requires for high-opportunity positions.

Empowering students with 21st century skills


As educators continue to seek better ways to prepare students for life beyond K-12 instruction, the number of skills those students will need to be successful continues to grow. Yet the fundamentals these skills are based on — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity — have long been part of 21st century learning design.

Educators can learn new ways to teach these skills by taking advantage of Microsoft’s free online professional development (designed by educators, for educators), through courses like 21st Century Learning Design, and through our new Imagine Academy.

By employing the right tools to reinforce these broad-based, cross-functional skills, educators can ensure that students are not only prepared for the work force, but primed for success – no matter how jobs (and job requirements) evolve.

To learn more about how Microsoft Office 365 Education can prepare your students for the new workforce.

For more ideas on transforming your classroom with technology, download these white papers:


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