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December 21, 2020

Identifying the Skills Most Desired by 21st Century Employers

Keynote Session at the College Promise Careers Institute with Markle Foundation’s Beth Cobert and Education Design Lab’s Chike Aguh

As the nature of work changes, so do the skills employers look for when building the workforce of the future. Beth Cobert, Chief Operating Officer of  Markle Foundation joined Chike Aguh, Head of Economic Mobility Micro-Pathways at Education Design Lab for an in-depth conversation identifying the most critical soft and hard skills that organizations are looking for and how the demand has shifted in response to the pandemic.

Critical skills employees and job seekers need

To be competitive in the current marketplace, employees need critical skills that can be broken down into three main buckets: a willingness to learn, basic digital skills, and foundational skills. “We know the economy is going to change, and so, both a mindset capability and the opportunity to keep learning becomes incredibly important for anyone at any level in any role,” said Beth Cobert, Chief Operating Officer of Markle Foundation. Employees must be willing to learn and evolve throughout their career journey, now more than ever before.

There is also an increasing requirement in the workforce for employees with a basic level of digital skills. This doesn’t mean all employees in the future must learn to code, but it does mean basic digital literacy skills are required, “whether you're a home health aide getting guidance and working remotely using some kind of tablet or phone, or a facilities person trying to do inspections and measurements,” says Cobert.

“Two-thirds of the 13 million jobs that were created since 2010 have required medium or advanced levels of digital skills and unfortunately… it's estimated that a third of workers don't have the digital skills they need, and that problem disproportionately affects Black and Latinx workers, so we've got to find a way to close that gap,” says Cobert.

The third requirement is for foundational skills, from communication to relationship building. The unique thing about this skill set is they are transferable as employees move into new positions or even a new career field. Employers should consider “what is the skill that someone has built through a job or through education and how can it be applied to the new jobs, the emerging jobs, the jobs where there's going to be demand,” says Cobert.

Responding to the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities

Beth Cobert also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Skillful, a Markle Foundation initiative working with employers, educators, policymakers and others to help the nearly 70% of Americans without college degrees get good jobs based on the skills they have or the skills they can learn.

“At (Skillful) we're living life differently. (COVID-19) has really increased for us the sense of urgency and the focus on the disproportionate impact of the economic follow-up from the pandemic and we really have tried to think about how we can shape this work, focused on helping those who have been most dislocated by the pandemic and how we are going to address these questions of ongoing systemic racial equity…. (I)t has reinforced things we were starting to do already in terms of how we can use technology as a way to work with organizations nationally and locally to bring resources to communities.”

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This blog post is part of a series of recordings from the College Promise Careers Institute. In November 2020, College Promise held the virtual 3-day summit convening hundreds of our nation's leading practitioners, educators, employers, and thought leaders for sessions tackling the most complex challenges American workers face -- from the rise of artificial intelligence to the role free college plays in maintaining a competitive edge.

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