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Ability to adapt and solve problems highly prized by employers in 2021


John Moore

John Moore

John Moore

Normally, in the first quarter of any year, employers will put a renewed focus on skills and development in the workplace, with the ultimate goal of making sure their organisation is equipped to overcome challenges and take opportunities in the year ahead.

A new year also generally brings renewed ambition from employees to upskill and make themselves either indispensable to their current employer or attractive to any others who may come looking.

However, according to new research carried out as part of Hays’ annual Salary Guide, the skills which organisations are most in need of and those which employees want to develop are different.

The research surveyed over 950 employers and employees in Northern Ireland – professionals working across a range of industry sectors – and uncovered the skills which organisations are most in need of over the next 12 months. These are:

⬤ Communication and interpersonal skills (needed by 51%)

⬤ Problem-solving (51%)

⬤ Ability to adopt change (45%)

⬤ Coordinating with others (40%)

⬤ People management skills (38%)

In light of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year and the changes to our day-to-day working lives, those in-demand skills probably make a lot of sense. The need to communicate clearly, solve problems, adopt change and manage people well has, arguably, never been more important in our new world of remote and hybrid working.

And yet, despite these skills being the most in demand by employers, they differ considerably to the skills which employees want to develop in order to progress their own career. In our survey employees listed:

⬤ People management skills (45%)

⬤ Communication and interpersonal skills (31%)

⬤ Critical thinking (30%)

⬤ Judgement and decision-making skills (28%)

⬤ Problem-solving (27%)

Only communication and interpersonal skills make it into the top three of both lists, highlighting that there is still a bit of a mismatch between the skills organisations are in need of and those which employees want to develop.

So, what are the implications of this? The slight misalignment of skills has potential to cause some problems if employers can’t find people with the attributes they want or if good candidates are put off employers because they don’t believe they’ll be able to develop their skillset. But many of the skills listed are actually complementary and any difference in the value placed on them should be easily overcome.

My advice to professionals looking for a new role in 2021 is to stay ahead of what skills employers are looking for now and in future and which of them will help you to get your next job. Consider how you can articulate these skills in both the application and interview process.

Employers, in turn, must be able to demonstrate that they offer a wide range of training opportunities that will enable staff to develop different skillsets. Professional development is a high priority for employees today and candidates often enquire about it when exploring new job opportunities. You may have specific skills needs at this moment in time, but remember, having diverse strengths in your workforce will ultimately benefit your organisation and aid employee attraction and retention.

A positive reading from the research is that employers remain focussed on upskilling in the year ahead. Over two thirds (67%) said they plan to help employees upskill in their current profession, and a third (33%) said they plan to support employees to undertake academic qualifications in their current profession.

This is encouraging and shows that professional development is no longer seen as a ‘nice to have’ by the best employers, but as a strategic investment that can spur future growth.

Ulster Business