The Top 5 Skills for the Digital Age
The modern workplace requires a different set of skills to what you needed 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. Many employers talk about soft skills and hard skills - soft skills being the more general, non-technical characteristics of someone’s work which make them able to adapt themselves to a wide variety of work in a constantly evolving workplace.
You need a different set of skills to work in the modern economy, so we’ve identified 5 of the most critical ones, as well as a few tips as to how you can set yourself up with them. These skills take time to develop, but due to their general nature, every situation is an opportunity to do so. So let’s not waste time: here are the top 5 skills you need for the digital age.
Establishing a Personal Brand
You may know several companies that Elon Musk has set up - think SpaceX or Tesla - but the brand you’re probably most familiar with is his own. Establishing a personal brand is a key component of working in
the digital age. It’s necessarily based around your professional skills and expertise, and that’s a great place to start. You need to find the thing you’re best at and hammer the point home, producing content and updates that show you are the expert in this area.
As far as distributing your content, you could go with a personal blog or a YouTube channel - but start with LinkedIn. A strong network on this platform gives you a consistent audience for your content in a professional setting, which is something you don’t get on other social media sites.
It takes a while to build a strong brand. You’ll need to be producing content consistently over a long period of time - think years. You might think this sounds exhausting, but it shouldn’t be. Your personal brand should be authentic, an extension of yourself - it’s not about crafting some character or persona that you think will appeal to others. Authenticity is sustainable, natural and attractive, and should be the cornerstone of your personal brand.
Being resilient and adaptable
In a job interview, you’ll often be asked to talk about a time when you were faced with a challenging or stressful situation, and how you responded. Employers are always looking for employees who can deal well with dynamic problems and perform in crunch time. Being resilient and adaptable makes you an asset in these make it or break it moments.
Compared to working a few decades ago, a lot of things are different in a digital age workplace. Instantaneous communication means that the playing field can change at the drop of a hat, meaning you can’t always plan how you’re going to respond in advance. Workers these days are also required to contribute in different areas depending on the situation, so you can’t always stick to your best one or two skills.
Being resilient means that you can get up again after falling down. Failing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Refusing to learn from your failures is. When your interviewer asks about a time you were challenged, they don’t want to hear that you’ve never slipped up. Quite the opposite - they know you’ll experience hardship, and they want to know that you can get back on track.
Cultivating a community
The traditional role of the community in our lives is to prop up the individual by providing a network of care and support. Against this backdrop, our lives are easier to maintain, and by giving back, our sense of fulfilment is higher. In the digital age, the meaning of community has shifted, and often taken a back seat.
When you’re part of a hypermobile and technology-dependent digital age workforce, the need for face to face interactions shrinks. It’s possible to have a company set up in a community, but not have any meaningful interactions with it.
However, there’s a lot you can do to cultivate community in this new context. For starters, corporates often engage with communities through outreach events. Taking the lead on these opportunities will embed you within the support network of your area, and the benefits can be great.
Community also has a different sense now - the same technologies that remove us from our physical communities can also firmly place us within a new, digital community. Maintaining a strong network of friends and professional contacts will ensure you always have people looking out for you and keep you on track. It’s also a great way to stay aware of professional opportunities coming down the grapevine.
Problem-solving with Digital Tools
Digital tools - applications, analytics, coding languages and so on - greatly increase our ability to work across a number of areas. The raw processing power they provide allow us to organise, sort and visualise data, to create algorithms in our service and to automate processes.
A lot of these tools are highly intuitive, but nonetheless, not everyone finds them intuitive. Becoming proficient in relevant applications - especially ubiquitous programs like Microsoft Word and Excel - is an invaluable skill in the new workforce. Digital tools really expand your capability to attack and solve problems.
Knowing where to start is one of the trickiest parts of this process. Laying out your problem in simple or visual terms helps you find which angle you can use to attack it. For example, you might benefit from creating visual graphs and charts from your data, or from creating algorithms to try a series of combinations of individual parts that you don’t have the time to do yourself.
Once you have a good angle, designing a digital solution can come naturally. Google is a great resource for how-to guides for any app you can imagine, and there are great resources like Code Academy for learning how to code. If you can’t use your tools to implement the solution you need, upskilling yourself is a great option.
Working well as part of a team
The digital age workforce has a lot of different players, a lot of different skills, a lot of different goals. It’s a constantly changing landscape and you won’t always be the best person for the job at hand. One of your best assets will be the ability to communicate and work with others whose proficiencies make up for your deficiencies, and vice versa.
It’s always easier to accomplish a goal with more hands on deck. You’ll be working in teams that are small or large, at a distance or face to face - adapting to the group dynamics can be hard, but there are several things to keep in mind to make it easier.
Teams need to share the same end goal, or vision. If you’re working towards different ends, you’ll constantly butt heads along the way. That’s why you need to go over this before you begin. Starting off on the right foot with your team ensures the rest of the ride will be smooth sailing.
A good start needs to be reinforced with constant communication and check-ins. This will ensure that you never diverge from your vision or other team members in action and will keep everyone functioning as a well-oiled machine.
A common thread through all these skills is that you need to be able to adapt to dynamic situations. While the tools, people, objectives and obstacles around you change, so will you. In this context, it’s easy to feel unsure about whether you’re doing the right thing, so constant communication is a good strategy to have in order to combat this - seek reassurance at critical moments. And of course, being the digital age, it doesn’t mean much if it isn’t online - regular updates help you maintain your personal brand, which could end up being your biggest asset.
By Jack Buckley