The Five Competencies of Tomorrow
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a crisis that caused upheaval in workplaces. Whether employees were self-employed or worked for the public, para-public, or private sectors, organizations had to mobilize themselves and their workforce to remain productive and relevant to ensure they survived and continue to do so post-pandemic.
Historical events and what they taught us:
Key events such as the Industrial Revolution, the World Wars, and the COVID-19 pandemic have not only brought on a significant culture shift but has also shaped organizations and gave rise to essential skills and competencies that employees, employers, and leaders alike need to have to ensure they remain relevant over time.
As a prime example, World War II provided unprecedented opportunities for women to enter jobs that had never been open to women, particularly in the defense industry. Women faced challenges in overcoming cultural stereotypes against working women and finding adequate childcare during working hours.
Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic provided unprecedented opportunities for men and women1 to work remotely and benefit from increased flexibility in their work schedules. An additional shift in cultural stereotypes may have been found in the family setting, where the primary caregiver’s responsibilities may have significantly changed to include increased investment in a child’s education. Moreover, where women may have found themselves primarily responsible for child-rearing and education, these same responsibilities may have been better shared between the two members of the couple to ensure a greater balance.
This shift in gender roles required that the head(s) of the household be adaptable to ensure they survived over time and gave their offspring the best chances of survival – especially in times of crisis. This capacity for adaptability is therefore crucial; as such, it is important to remember that adaptability is defined as “an ability or willingness to change to suit different conditions” (The Cambridge Dictionary, 2021). Therefore, adaptability is an essential trait to have, equally in the home and the workplace.
A close look at the main competencies to remain relevant over time:
The need to remain adaptable motivated us to look further and consider the other key competencies that the employers of today will look for in their employees of tomorrow. Our search yielded some interesting discoveries and the following five key competencies were identified: teamwork, conformity, and work orientation; empathy; data literacy; adaptability and resilience; and entrepreneurship.
First, employers of today engaging in some forecasting activities and identifying the type of employees they are looking for their current and future needs will focus on both hard and soft skills. Hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities, such as writing, reading, math, or the ability to use computer programs. By contrast, soft skills are the traits that make a good employee, such as etiquette, communication and listening and getting along with other people, just to name a few. Let us take a closer look at the main hard and soft skills that make up the five competencies of tomorrow more closely.
Competency of tomorrow # 1: Teamwork, conformity, and work-orientation
Employers will want individuals who are not only digitally savvy, but who will have several soft skills such as teamwork, understanding of rules and regulations (conformity), and responsibility and commitment (work orientation). Teamwork is defined as “the activity of working together in a group with other people, especially when this is successful” (The Cambridge Dictionary, 202!) and is in opposition to individual work; understanding rules and regulations or conformity is defined as “behaviour that follows the usual standards that are expected by a group or society” (The Cambridge Dictionary, 2021); and work orientation (or task orientation) is defined as someone who is intellectually, emotionally and/or functionally focused on and devoted to completing certain tasks, especially those that contribute to the success of a larger project or job.
This powerhouse trio will be highly beneficial for an organization. Employers with staff having these soft skills will be able to foster a work environment where individuals will work more effectively and efficiently for the greater good and where there will be a reduced risk of people taking an undue fair share of the credit when completing a task; the work environment will also be conducive to employees respecting the decisions and actions of their managers and their peers2 and will not shy away from seeking additional guidance and clarity to bring a specific project to fruition; finally, an environment that further stimulates the work orientation soft skill will be successful as their mandates will be achieved in a timely fashion, yielding to superior results.
Competency of tomorrow #2: Empathy
While empathy is considered a soft skill, research has shown that it should be listed in a class of its own. Empathy is defined as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation” (The Cambridge Dictionary, 202!) and to understand and show compassion when one is contending with personal and/or professional problems that permeate into the work environment. Empathy further drives an individual to help their manager or their colleagues with their workload, all the while having a great ability to put their workload momentarily aside to tackle a greater problem. While automation and other great strides in technological advances have occurred, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, empathy is one skill set that machines cannot be taught. “Data is one of the driving forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But sometimes, when we perceive the world through data-driven models, it can become harder to see the humanity behind the numbers. Technology thus has the potential to erode our sense of empathy” (Belinda Parmer, The Empathy Business).
Competency of tomorrow # 3: Data literacy
The next competency of tomorrow has been identified as data literacy. Data literacy is defined as “the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. Much like literacy as a general concept, data literacy focuses on the competencies involved in working with data” (Wikipedia, “Data literacy”, 2021). “Given how much “noise” there is in this digital age, individuals must be able to sieve through huge volumes of data to establish which information is most relevant – and to make quick decisions based on this” (Biola Alabi, Grooming for Greatness, 2021). These data literacy skills can be further broken down into linguistic, mathematical, and technical skills, another powerhouse trio. It goes without saying that linguistic skills will be a highly sought-after competency because it will encompass a broad range of communication abilities, which include both oral and written communication skills. Moreover, these same linguistic and/or communication skills will also include the ability to de-escalate conflict situations and engage in proactive dialogue when giving or receiving feedback, especially regarding performance appraisals. The mathematical skills will also be essential, especially as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution and give way to more and more automated processes. More experts will be required to help design specific algorithms to ensure that the automated processes run smoothly and that limited errors occur. Finally, technical skills will also be key. These may include, for example, the ability to carry out big data analyses, coding, and programming, project management as well as social media management and marketing, to name a few.
Competency of tomorrow # 4: Adaptability and resiliency
As previously mentioned, adaptability will be an essential key competency that employers will look for in their employees. “Adaptability is important because as new technology evolves, companies established in the “old ways” may have difficulty competing with major players in their industry. Employers are looking for employees who can demonstrate strong adaptability skills and become company leaders” (The Balance Careers, 2021). Highly adaptable people can consider the lessons learned from a given situation and do not see failure as an end of the world scenario, but rather as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Moreover, adaptable individuals have related competencies such as a strong ability to learn, a great capacity for either critical or strategic thinking, may also be research-oriented, searching to continuously improve and provide attention to detail. They are noted to be more persistent, resourceful, and curious, adopting creative and innovative ways to solve problems. Finally, these same individuals may also boast from a keen sense of observation and their long-term memory is sharp, making them excellent candidates that can act as corporate memory gurus.
Adaptability is closely related to a positive attitude and/or resiliency. People who are resilient (and highly adaptable) rarely feel the need to abandon their jobs when they are met with workplace challenges or are under pressure. The age-old adage when the going gets tough, the tough get going can perhaps best illustrate the notion of resiliency. Resilient people enjoy challenges and remain dedicated to their jobs, even when it means they need to push through when things get hard. Also, they will be their team’s personal cheerleader, boosting them during more difficult and/or stressful times. Resilient individuals have high levels of tolerance to stress, can manage expectations, and remain motivated over time.
Competency # 5: Entrepreneurship
The final competency, entrepreneurship, is one of the most essentials ones to date. Having a strong entrepreneurial spirit can be “key to pulling people out of poverty” says Veronica Colondam, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the YCAB Foundation. According to Ms. Colondam, it is insufficient to be creative, innovative, and collaborative – one must also know when to apply each of these related competencies in a business context. Individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit are oftentimes financially literate and learn from past mistakes. These teaching moments allow them to sometimes double and triple their income. Those individuals having a strong entrepreneurial spirit will be the leaders of tomorrow. Ms. Colondam continues by stating that these three specific skills – entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation – “will help create a generation of innovators who are not only surviving but are actually contributing to improving the state of the world. The future belongs to these innovative and creative people.”
Have you surveyed your workforce and are you able to know whether your employees have these five key competencies? Are you wanting to ensure that your organization survives and remains relevant over time? If so, EPSI can help. Contact us today to learn more about our products and services, including our psychometric tests that have good predictive validity on future work performance and our many talent assessments and management solutions. We look forward to serving you!
Contributed by Vicki-Anne Rodrigue,
revised by Marie-Christine Drouin.
French translation by: Camille Thom
1 We are cognizant that we live in a non-gender binary society. The expression men and women are meant to be used in a broad sense to include both traditional genders, as manifested by human genetic characteristics. However, the term should also include the full range of sex and gender identities that are appropriate to the individual who may not necessarily identify with the traditional male and female roles. For this article, we will use the traditional male and female roles with the sole intent to simplify the text.
2 Note: conformity does not mean that one closes a blind eye to corruption or other inappropriate workplace behaviours such as sexual harassment. Conformity simply means that there is a chain of command, there are actions and expectations, along with values and guiding principles that employees should, in theory, feel comfortable in respecting and that they will conform to what the authority will ask them to do to ensure greater workplace success. Conformity is NOT synonymous with puppetry or dictatorship. Where inappropriate behaviours have occurred in the workplace, it is important to disclose them, or where this appears to be impossible, to take a close inventory of one’s own values and guiding principles and decide whether the workplace is suited to one’s needs, desires, and long-term career goals.
Deloitte (2015). Leaders for Today – Leaders for Tomorrow. What leadership competencies do members of management and supervisory boards have? What is important in company management today and in the future? Report on the competencies of managers – men and women – in the context of changing business needs. Website consulted on January 5, 2021, at:
Samdahi, E. (2009). The top five leadership competencies of tomorrow. The i4cp Productivity Blog. Website consulted on January 5, 2021, at https://www.i4cp.com/productivity-blog/2009/10/08/the-top-five-leadership-competencies-of-tomorrow
The Balance Careers (n.d.). Important adaptability skills for workplace success. Website consulted on January 5, 2021, at:
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2020). Data literacy. Website consulted on January 17, 2021, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_literacy
World Economic Forum (2016). The most important skills of tomorrow, according to five global leaders.
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