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By Tom Connor
Between ever-advancing technologies and a pandemic, work is evolving at an unprecedented rate. With that, the skills that are and will be the most valuable in the workplace are evolving too.
Tomorrow’s leaders must hone cross-functional skills — both technical and non-technical — to excel.
“Gone are the days when you can take a student through a business school and say, ‘Take 18 courses in the business school and you’ll graduate with an MBA,’” says Raj Echambadi, Dunton Family Dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. “We can only create the next generation of principled leaders by giving them tools from various disciplines and enabling them to question conventional wisdom.”
Technical skills of tomorrow
As we rely more heavily on technology to enhance daily work and efficiency, digital literacy has become an entry-level requirement.
The technical skills employees need to stand out in this digital economy are getting more advanced. With data at the heart of so many business decisions, for instance, today’s leaders are often expected to have an understanding of data and analytics. In Microstrategy’s 2020 Global State of Enterprise Analytics report, 95% of respondents said data and analytics were important to their business growth and digital transformation.
In the coming years, “the tech skills so many of us will need is sufficient knowledge of AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning,” advises Renée Laverdière, a partner at Boston Consulting Group, a leading management consulting firm. “We expect organizations to increasingly shift to deploy humans together with computers, data, and AI to achieve more together.” To help businesses across industries thrive, employees will need to be able to translate company needs and teach these advanced software programs to run efficiently behind the scenes.
“Business and technology strategy are deeply intertwined, and the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds are now blurred,” Echambadi stresses. “You can’t be a world-class business leader without an understanding of the technology, and you can’t be a world-class technology leader without an understanding of the business.”
Technical know-how isn’t the only valuable skillset for tomorrow’s leaders, experts say. “The most-needed skills for rising leaders are the truly human skills that can’t be readily duplicated by machines,” says Echambadi, “such as critical thinking, curiosity, creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, collaborating, and complex problem solving.”
Digital fluency appeared among the most important skills of 2020 in LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, but the other top 10 skills included resilience, communication, emotional intelligence, collaboration, and creativity.
“We cannot underestimate the power of empathy and increased emotional intelligence in today’s world,” says Leah Houde, chief learning officer at PwC, who drives development strategies for the company. “More than ever, we need to connect hearts and minds in prioritizing skills and capabilities to equip the workforce of the future.”
Laverdière agrees that empathy will be one of the most critical business skills going forward. “The ability to bring teams together, inspire them, and enable a safe environment to take risks and learn will be critical to success — and all of these depend on empathy,” she says.
Training tomorrow’s leaders
In order to prepare students for tomorrow’s careers, top business schools are listening closely to employers’ changing needs and adapting their curriculums accordingly.
“It is critical to equip workers of the future with the curriculum they need to be successful in a dynamic business environment,” notes Houde. “The closer we can position that curriculum as a response to rapidly changing business challenges, solutions, and tools, the better.”
By exposing students to diverse perspectives in multiple disciplines, D’Amore-McKim has reimagined business education. For example, full-time MBA students select courses or a concentration in highly relevant fields offered in partnership with other Northeastern colleges, such as artificial intelligence, software development, game design and analytics, and biotechnology.
“Now our students are not just conversant with the language of business — they’re also conversant with other languages, if you will, that will enable them to be impactful leaders in the real world,” says Echambadi.
D’Amore-McKim graduate students apply their classroom learning to business challenges and gain valuable experience through class projects and the school’s signature corporate residency. Full-time MBA students work at a leading firm or startup in their field and earn a salary, usually for six months. Students combining an MBA and MS in accounting work at a Big Four or other top accounting firm, gaining paid professional experience for three months. “This combination of experiential learning and humanities is the way of the future,” says Echambadi.
Implicit in a D’Amore-McKim education is an awareness that the future of work no longer lies in the future — it is already here.
As such, the school’s graduate programs are grounded in understanding how the impact of technology, data, and human-centered skills like ethical thinking, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation are changing the business world.
“When you encase technology and data literacy with human-centered literacy,” Echambadi says, “that’s the future.”