Visit Modern Campus

Essential Skills: A New Paradigm of Skills Development

In addition to soft and hard skills, higher ed institutions must aim to provide essential skills, which act as a link that ultimately enhances learner success.

In today’s rapidly evolving, dynamic and hyper-competitive global marketplace, success is no longer solely determined by technical proficiency representative of hard skills or interpersonal finesse symbolized through soft skills. While hard skills such as project management and soft skills like written and oral communication remain fundamental for individuals to learn, there is growing recognition of the critical importance of another category of skills: essential skills. These competencies serve as the linchpin that connects and enhances both hard and soft Skills, enabling individuals to not only navigate but also thrive in the complexities of the modern landscape. Essential skills transcend disciplinary boundaries, emphasize people’s uniqueness and promote self-awareness.

Defining Essential Skills

To achieve a sustainable future in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) global marketplace, organizations will, according to the 2024 LinkedIn Report, “succeed by embracing growth as a virtuous cycle. Employee growth, through learning and career development, can play a substantial role in an organization’s productivity, sustainability, and retention.” By embracing the essential skills as a foundation of learning and development today, organizations have a new opportunity to modernize their paradigm of employee growth in today’s VUCA environment.

In a world characterized by rapid technological advancements, economic fluctuations and sociopolitical uncertainties, the ability to bridge the technical prowess of hard skills with the interpersonal finesse of soft skills through the application of essential skills is paramount for success. As with both hard skills and soft skills, there are many essential skills individuals can engage in for their learning and development. The adjacent table illustrates a few skills for each category.


Transcending Disciplinary Boundaries

Unlike hard skills, which are often specific to a particular domain or industry, and soft skills, which primarily focus on interpersonal interactions, essential skills transcend disciplinary boundaries. Essential skills are fundamental to anyone committed to the belief that developing as a professional requires growing as a person. They are applicable across generations, titles, functional areas and industries, making them indispensable for individuals navigating diverse and rapidly changing environments. Whether it’s developing a vision for your future self in a world of constant change, relying on your positive uncertainty to think critically or challenging your own assumptions to communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, essential skills provide individuals with the agility and resilience they need to thrive amidst constant disruption. In today’s AI-infused global marketplace, organizations that engage in the necessary skills development of its employees are, according to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, 98% more likely to retain high performers.

Emphasizing Human Authenticity

Essential skills play a pivotal role in addressing the evolving demands of the modern workforce. As automation and AI continue to reshape traditional job roles and workflows, there is an increasing emphasis on uniquely human skills that machines are unable to replicate. Essential skills such as creating an authentic sense of self, challenging your own assumptions and allowing yourself to be vulnerable are becoming increasingly valued. Authenticity also entails taking responsibility for your choices and actions, being transparent in your dealings with others and respecting their authenticity as well. It fosters genuine connections and meaningful relationships because people are drawn to authenticity and feel more comfortable being themselves around authentic individuals. In today’s VUCA global marketplace, organizations need employees who can couple their authenticity with technology. As Julie Kratz wrote in Forbes, “Human skills are more critical in an AI environment as robots and algorithms rely on human inputs and do not have the ability to process emotions.”

Promoting Self-Awareness

The third characteristic of essential skills is that they promote self-awareness. Self-awareness is the capacity to introspectively understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, strengths, weaknesses and motivations. It serves as the compass that guides individuals through the complexities of their environment, enabling them to make informed decisions, manage their reactions effectively and continuously learn and grow. In the context of essential skills, self-awareness acts as a catalyst for fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth. It allows individuals to recognize the need for improvement, identify areas for development and seek out opportunities for enhancement. By understanding their own learning preferences, cognitive biases and emotional triggers, individuals can tailor their learning journeys to maximize effectiveness and efficiency. By prioritizing self-awareness and integrating it into their daily practices, individuals can unlock their full potential, thrive amidst change, and contribute meaningfully to the collective journey of growth and development. As Panagiota Panagiotaki noted, “Self-awareness fosters a more collaborative and supportive workplace culture and is essential for effective leadership, decision-making, communication, and relationship-building, all of which are key to a productive and harmonious work environment.”

The Essential Skills and Project Management   

One of the many essential skills is relying on positive uncertainty. When juxtaposed to the hard skill of project management and the soft skill of adaptability, the example below illustrates how relying on positive uncertainty links one’s professional development (hard skill) to personal growth (soft skills).

Project planning

Incorporating buffers and flexibility into project plans acknowledges the inherent uncertainty in any project. This approach requires not only technical skills in planning but also the soft skill of adaptability. Project managers must be open to adjusting plans based on new information or changing circumstances, demonstrating the essential skill of relying upon positive uncertainty to move forward amidst unforeseen events.

Project execution and control

Maintaining open communication channels and encouraging team members to voice concerns or suggest alternative approaches fosters an environment of openness and communication. When unexpected challenges arise, project managers must adapt their strategies and tactics to address them effectively, which requires both the technical skill of project control and the soft skill of being open to new ideas and approaches.

Risk management

Viewing risks as opportunities for improvement or innovation requires a high level of adaptability. Project managers must be willing to embrace uncertainty and adjust their risk management strategies accordingly. It involves not only identifying and mitigating risks but also leveraging potential opportunities that arise, demonstrating the soft skill of adaptability in response to uncertainty.

2024: The Year of Skills

Training Magazine defined 2024 as “The Year of Skills” and declared, “As emerging technology penetrates every industry; employers will embrace a skills-based approach to talent acquisition and development to compete.” By updating their mental models of skill-based training and development, leaders and hiring managers would serve their organizations well by recognizing how essential skills are indispensable for success in today’s rapidly evolving global marketplace. Serving as the glue that binds together hard and soft skills, these competencies enable individuals to navigate the complexities of the modern landscape with agility, resilience and innovation. By prioritizing the development of essential skills, individuals can continuously develop both their hard and soft skills, learn to thrive, not just survive, in a VUCA environment and position themselves as invaluable contributors to the ongoing success and adaptability of their organization.