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New McKinsey research identifies 56 foundational skills for the future of work

Skills are often associated closely with the future of work, but what are the skills required for today’s workforce to become the workforce of tomorrow? McKinsey set out to answer that very question, and came up with 56 foundational skills — or DELTAs — to help the workforce of the future.

Jasper Spanjaart on August 13, 2021 Average reading time: 3 min
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New McKinsey research identifies 56 foundational skills for the future of work

Shifts in what is required of a workforce occur regularly. Whether it’s a groundbreaking innovation or a gradual change in the way products are produced — shifts are a part of society. Throughout the past COVID-related months, however, some sectors that were already at there risk of being displaced by automation have seen its demise being accelerated.

Governments and organisations everywhere face the task of devising curricula and learning strategies that will somehow future proof citizens and employees.

Automation is seen as the common threat for those types of jobs, as employees with tertiary qualification run the biggest risk, according to research conducted by McKinsey in 2020. Now, governments and organisations everywhere face the task of devising curricula and learning strategies that will somehow future proof citizens and employees.

That’s where McKinsey’s latest research comes in. McKinsey Global Institute’s main goal was to help definitions take shape and contribute to the future-proofing of citizen’s skills for the world of work. “It is hard to devise curricula and the best learning strategies without being more precise about the skills needed”, the researchers write. “It is difficult to teach what is not well defined.”

Foundational skills over specialisation

McKinsey identified a total of 56 foundational skills, which the company has dubbed DELTAs, that will benefit, well, everyone. “These skills showed that higher proficiency in them is already associated with a higher likelihood of employment, higher incomes, and job satisfaction”, the report reads. “Some work will, of course, be specialised. But in a labour market that is more automated, digital, and dynamic, all citizens will benefit from having a set of foundational skills.”

The three important criteria for work

Those foundational skills will translate directly to some type of fulfilment of three, main criteria. Firstly, they add value beyond what can be done by automated systems and intelligent machines. Secondly, they will be able to operate in a digital environment. And lastly, they will continually adapt to new ways of working and new occupations — something which has proven to be particularly apt in 2020 and 2021.

The 56 DELTAs

In an attempt to make it even more concrete, McKinsey accumulated a list of 56 ‘distinct elements of talent’ (DELTAs), which can be split up into four categories: cognitive, interpersonal, self-leadership and digital. “We call them DELTAs, rather than skills, because they are a mix of skills and attitudes. “Adaptability” and “coping with uncertainty” are attitudes, for example”, the research states.

 

Lacking digital skills

In the next phase, McKinsey’s researchers defined a ‘desirable level of proficiency’ for each of the 56 DELTAs and devised a psychometric questionnaire to assess the respondents. The results gave a clear indication as to where the current workforce lacks in DELTA proficiency. In the cognitive category, planning and ways of working as well as communication were marked as a relative weakness.

While respondents over 18,000 people in 15 countries scored high on digital fluency, they lack skills in ‘software use and development’ and ‘understanding digital systems’.

The biggest lack of proficiency, however, was found in the digital category. While respondents over 18,000 people in 15 countries scored high on digital fluency, they lack skills in ‘software use and development’ and ‘understanding digital systems’.

Education or adult-training reform

In its conclusion, McKinsey’s researchers call upon governments to review and update curricula to focus more on the DELTAs, and names education or adult-training reform as possible action points. “Many governments and academics have started to define the taxonomies of the skills citizens will require, but few have done so at the level described here”, the research says.  “Moreover, few, if any, have undertaken the considerable amount of research required to identify how best to develop and assess such skills.”

McKinsey found that modules that focused on self-awareness and self-management were 20 times less common than communication training.

While some fixes may be easier than others — some seem blatant. In an online scan of adult training programs, McKinsey found that modules that focused on self-awareness and self-management were 20 times less common than communication training. “That could be an urgent gap to fill to adequately respond to the wave of unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”, the research concludes.

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

Editor-in-Chief and Writer at ToTalent.eu
Editor-in-Chief and writer for European Total Talent Acquisition platform ToTalent.eu.
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