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January Question of the Month - What do you believe are the most important skills to develop your career in 2017?

This year we have begun our new 'Question of the Month' series to ask you, our fantastic network of clients and candidates, what your opinions are on the most pressing business topics and events around the world that will impact your careers.

Our January question focused on skills for 2017 and what you thought were the most important ones to develop in these changing times. We collected hundreds of responses and here at Freshminds we have been looking into the results with great interest as to what they tell us about the future of business.

Far and away the most popular response was 'communication' and 'problem solving' with over half the results dominated by these two valued skills. 

(Respondents able to click more than one answer)

Interestingly, these answers were often given alongside one another showing them in tandem and important to develop as a combination.

In fact, 85% of respondents answered with more than one skill showing that these are valued highly as combinations rather than as a singular development. 


Numeracy ranked at less than 10% and only 2% as a standalone answer, more commonly as part of the multiple answer responses. When aiming to develop a career path, comparatively to other skills, numeracy is evidently a lower priority. 

Also when answering ‘other’, it came as no surprise to us that digital skills ranked highly. There has been much talk of the digital skills gap in the UK, costing the UK economy £63 billion per year in lost GDP  as well as the emphasis on putting more students in schools through STEM subjects. However, perhaps this didn't rank even more highly for two reasons; 

  • Respondents assumed digital skills are a given – As we move forward in 2017, technology is so much a major part of almost everyone's daily lives that digital skills are not even considered as a separate category so much by employers unless for a specialist role.
  • Respondents assumed communication and problem solving refers to digital skills - Most of our communication today requires digital awareness, whether it be through social media or through project management apps such as Slack (read our article: Slack it to me), let alone traditional emails. Analytics software is often an essential component for flagging up as well as monitoring problems and their solutions. Therefore digital skills encompass and are required for the wider issues of communication and problem solving.

Therefore we can draw out three reasons why communication and problem solving topped the list over digital skills.

  • Good communication needed to address digital ambiguity - Digital communication has made it easier than ever to bring together experts from across the world, or employ more remote freelancers (read our article: Does the 4 day working week work?)  But that still means it is up to the people themselves to stay in proper contact with each other. It's no use having the digital skills without the interpersonal skills of staying in good contact with teams. One response even addressed this directly saying that the ‘ability to clarify ambiguity’ was a core skill to address, especially when working with cross functional or virtual teams. 
  • Human problem solving still needed for digital innovation – It may seem that technology sometimes inhibits our ability to problem solve for ourselves with many analytics apps doing the majority of the work for us. But human problem solving is still a vital and highly valued skill in order to interpret analytics outcomes. Innovation will not come without inspired people coming up with new solutions to problems. 
  • Good communication needed to present digital solutions - As Walter Isaacson argues in his book The Innovators, even in technology—perhaps even especially in technology—the ability to collaborate effectively is decisive. In order to innovate, it’s not enough to just come up with big ideas; you also need to work hard to communicate them clearly.  

Finally, it seemed that the current UK political and economic uncertainty also provoked some responses of skills to deal with all the unknown potential outcomes:

  • Resilience – to stand firm within the tidal wave of changes that may be initiated by Brexit. 
  • Agility - Companies will only be able to grow in new directions if people are able to adapt to the new economic landscape. Employees are especially valued if they have the capacity to learn new skills and immediately apply them to the workplace, which will be even more essential during the time pressured Brexit negotiations.
  • Planning skills – There is debate about how much planning can be done right now when the boundary lines are still as yet so unclear. Nonetheless, planning skills to deal with the changes and allow business to thrive will be vital.
  • Stakeholder management – Again linked with communication, the personal rapport and organisation of stakeholders will be essential to ease worries and prevent them pulling out investment or in panic pushing the company in a direction you want to avoid.
  • Additional European language fluency – This interesting addition showed that our European neighbours will still be important in the economic and business world and we must not stop investing in people who can translate and negotiate deals, perhaps now more than ever. 

So it seems that, it is still the fundamental human skills that are the most important ways to develop your career. Numeracy and digital skills are secondary to the ability to communicate effectively and know HOW to problem solve in the first place – the growing field of technology simply creates further ways to enable us to complete those tasks. And interpersonal skills also remain the driving force in business despite the difficult Brexit landscape ahead. Perhaps we can say that all this adds up to a sense of 'learning agility' being the key thing to master in business for 2017 – to learn and practice important skills but find ways to immediately apply them to the workplace during these uncertain and rapidly changing times.

Read about how to improve communication and problem solving skills here

Read the next instalment of the Question of the Month series looking at the effect of new US policies on business in the UK here