Skills for the 21st Century

By: Divya Singh, Chief Academic Officer
STADIO Multiversity

Along with technical ability and knowledge, an indispensable skill in the
workplace of the future will be ‘social intelligence’

Higher education in South Africa must evolve in step with the needs of the country and produce graduates with relevant skills that can enrich their chosen industries as well as the broader society. This will require ever-evolving curriculum design, that must not only match, but anticipate the ongoing changes in the workplace.

Technological advances are fundamental to current trends, and this will have a bearing on the type of professionals required in the 21st century workplace. Future work seekers would do well to bear this in mind. But in tandem with technical skills, are a suite of softer skills that will also be required.

Gaining a combination of technical, creative and strategic skills will be a useful approach to building a “future-proof” skill set. A key skill will be “social intelligence”, which can be invaluable to companies trying to navigate this rapidly evolving workplace.

Social intelligence is an arts and social-sciences competence. In an education context, the traditional focus on STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), would benefit from expanding to include a creative component, or adding Arts to the skill set (STEAM).

Mechanical, repetitive activities will always be more susceptible to technology and computerisation. Thus, for example, there is a high probability of the jobs of a dishwasher, court clerk and telemarketer being computerised, but public relations personnel and event planners (who require social intelligence), fashion designers and biologists (who need creativity) are less likely to be automated out of existence.

Creative jobs will be more resistant to automation, as robots struggle when tasks are highly interpretive and work task environments complex.

Another interesting demand that researchers see emerging is for management analysts and management consultants, which again require deep reserves of social and emotional intelligence.

With the fourth industrial revolution now established, the 2018-2020 era should see a much clearer focus on advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics. However, a WEF Report highlights the need to integrate these disparate fields. For learning institutions, this will mean designing curricula for the possibility of inter- and multi-disciplinary qualifications.

A McKinsey Report points out that e-retail consumers are a rapidly growing trend, but they expect their online shopping experience to be personalised and curated – yet another arena were tech awareness needs to go hand in hand with human social intelligence.

Educational institutions would thus do well to reconcile these issues. There needs to be curriculum development and design beyond pure technology competencies. Skills in maths, statistics, project management, data and logic need to be transferred along with skills in communication, interpretation, design, and synthetic thinking.

As jobs morph from the purely technical to hybrid jobs combining disciplines, research, writing and problem-solving will also become more useful.

South Africa, while reflecting global trends, also has its own unique challenges, such as the structural mismatch between labour needs and labour supply.  Adelzadeh points out that whilst “the economy and labour market show a demand for highly skilled workers, there is a surplus of low-skilled workers.

The last National DHET Scarce Skills List identified the following scarce skills: in the business sector, the scarcest skills are in management, in ICT for software developers, in education for accounting teachers, and in health for clinical nurses. Scarce skills are job types for which employers cannot find suitably qualified or experienced employees.

The impact of tech developments yields much greater potential for change in the employment section, with jobs becoming obsolete and new jobs emerging. Big data analytics, mobile internet, the internet of things, and robotics will have a significant impact as drivers of the change.

These jobs will not be limited to ICT and will be equally relevant in financial services, media, entertainment and information. This supports the idea that education institutions need to develop inter- and multi-disciplinary curriculums, where relevance and employability are key factors.

Graduates who are ready for the world of work and can “hit the ground running” will always have the advantage. As employment and job opportunities become more competitive, educational institutions will need to offer relevant qualifications; design curricula that teach technical skills as well as deeper 21st century skills; and ultimately prepare students for the world of work.

All articles written by this CONTRIBUTOR are solely their opinion and do not represent the views of After12 Magazine. Should you have any queries or concerns, please don't hesitate to email them to

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