What are the skills needed in the future workplace in 2020 and beyond? This was the question I sought to answer in front of about a hundred recruiters from various companies during the RecruiTech: Recruitment and Technology Forum organized by Asia Select.

As I consult and converse with several organizations from all over the country on digital transformation, I get a good sense of the current and future state of digital transformation across several sectors. A sound baseline is a 2016 Microsoft study on the state of digital transformation in the country, showing that 32% of companies surveyed have a full digital transformation strategy in place, 43% in progress with specific strategy, and 25% with limited or no strategy in place. By 2020, I forecast that 75% will have a full strategy in place and being implemented.

Therefore, employers in the future will require new set of skills from experienced professionals and new graduates. The top hard skills that recruiters will be looking for are those that involve one or some of the following domains: cloud computing, data science and analytics, cybersecurity, data privacy, Internet-of-Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).

While these technologies, especially AI, threatens to replace jobs through automation, certain soft skills will become indispensable and cannot be replaced by robots. Distilling from the list propounded by the World Economic Forum (WEF), I enumerate six requisite skills by 2020 and beyond.

1. Complex problem-solving
This is the most desired skill to have by 2020, which is defined by WEF as the capacity “to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.” Organizations will go through fast-changing settings brought about by technology and new ways of working, such that employees will need to handle uncertainties in different situations. They need to see the big picture, understand relationships of variables, and define alterative solutions to a problem.

The WEF report says “[m]ore than one third (36%) of all jobs across all industries are expected by our respondents to require complex problem-solving as one of their core skills.”

2. Critical thinking
Employers lament over the fact that the crop of graduates we have now lack critical thinking — the skill in using logic and reasoning, being able to use these to interrogate an issue or problem, generate alternative solutions to the problem, and consider the pros and cons of each approach.

This is the main skill I endeavour to develop among my students in graduate school — by challenging students’ thinking, engaging them in debate, and even confusing them with radical solutions to a problem. Our educational system has a lot to do to develop this skill in the future generations.

3. Creativity
The complexity of the future requires employees to connect the dots with seemingly disparate information, consider all the ideas together, and present something fresh. A skill in tandem with complex problem solving, this requires openness of the mind to new ideas to build new ones.

4. Empathy
This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, specifically customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders in an organization. The complexity of the future will bring out new stress levels among people, and this skill among employees will help bring out the best customer experience or employee engagement.

5. People management
With potentially AI replacing jobs in the workplace, and new stress levels come out, it’s vital that managers and team leaders know how to motivate their team members, maximize their productivity, coach their staff, and respond to their needs.

6. Cognitive flexibility
This is the mental ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously. This requires employees to grasp Peter Senge’s mental models — conceptual frameworks consisting of generalizations and assumptions that affect how we view the world and act in it; but multiple mental models for that matter.

Now, there are challenges in developing these skills among the youth and current crop of employees. Our educational system and employee training programs should innovate and apply the self-same future skills, like creativity and complex-problem solving, to make sure that employees of the future develop these skills.

Another challenge if for employers and recruiters — how can one evaluate and detect these skills among future employees. While hard skills should can be easily assessed, new methodologies in interviewing and evaluation should likewise be developed to assess soft skills.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at

Reynaldo C. Lugtu Jr. is the Managing Director of The Engage Philippines, digital marketing and customer engagement solutions company,  an information and communications technology firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He is also an Adjunct Faculty of the Asian Institute of Management.