Vital skills for the workplace in 2021

The skills that employers will want to see from candidates as we continue to wade through turbulent times this year and emerge into what will inevitably still be a rocky recovery period are not new.

As technology develops at pace and systems change rapidly these soft skills were fast becoming essential pre-pandemic – Covid-19 has merely accelerated the importance of them in the workplace. Hard skills specific to the industry the candidate works in will of course always be important (although a growing number businesses are offering training on the jobs where possible) but these soft skills are just as vital to success. With the talent pool expanding and competition for jobs increasing – WaveTrackR data shows that applications are still high – candidates need to show that they have the soft skills that employers are looking for.


If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that flexibility is key to a successful business. Those organisations that were able to swiftly adapt and pivot when lockdown hit and to continue to be agile as change became the norm were the ones that survived and even flourished. Agility is possibly the number one soft skill an employer will be looking for in a candidate – the ability to quickly make changes and adapt to an ever-changing landscape. There’s a strong possibility you will already have helped many of your candidates to pivot to expand their opportunities in a crowded marketplace and that will often work in their favour. Being able to respond according to market conditions, client needs or industry trends is a vital skill for all candidates.

A growth mindset

The ability to learn new skills at whatever stage you are in your career is vital in a world where new technologies and ways of working are being developed all the time. The World Economic Forum listed ‘active learning and learning strategies’ as one of top ten skills employees will need by 2025. Humility and an understanding that your knowledge and skills can always be improved upon and upgraded will benefit any organisation. A desire to seek knowledge and learn new skills should never be underestimated as a valuable skill.

Emotional intelligence

This is a key area that separates us from AI technology. Strong emotional intelligence allows us to read other people, understand their needs and connect with them. Leaders must connect emotionally with their team members, effective teams rely on understanding and compassion between one another, and business relationships are forged on connections made using emotional intelligence. It’s not just others’ emotional wellbeing we need to be attuned to. Key to emotional intelligence is the ability to be self-aware – receive direction and feedback and handle difficult conversations.   


Human creativity is key to a future dominated by artificial intelligence. In a 2020 LinkedIn poll, it was the number one soft skill companies look for when hiring. Creativity isn’t just about artistic abilities, it is also the ability to look at a problem from a different perspective and find a new solution, something that chimes with other key skills candidates need to demonstrate such as agility, flexibility and adaptability. To think creatively is to push boundaries, find answers to tricky problems and lead innovation.     

Interpersonal communication

With so much communication now occurring via digital platforms (and likely to remain that way post-pandemic), effective communication is more important than ever before. Making yourself understood in a way that is sensitive to everybody involved is vital but active listening is just as important. Being attuned to feelings, attentive to needs and the ability to know when to talk and when simply to listen is often something that requires work to achieve but is incredibly valuable.

Diversity and cultural intelligence

As our world grows smaller and we finally begin to truly embrace the value of a diverse workforce, the ability to work with, understand and respect others whatever differences may lie between us is vital. Understanding different cultural norms and working with those, having empathy for all others, and celebrating the differences that will generate diversity of thought and innovation is of enormous value to employers.

To stand out from the competition, candidates must offer more than the qualifications and experience that many others will also possess. These key soft skills will not only make them more employable, but they will also help them throughout their working life and future-proof their careers.

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