The 5 Most In-demand Tech Skills for 2021

Written by Heinrich Stander. MAX Instructor, author, and owner of Rocket Fueled Futures.

When the Wold Economic Forum asked employers what they look for when hiring in 2020, the top 5 skills there were looking for were:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordination with others

Wait, these aren’t technical skills at all! These don’t apply to technical jobs, right? Dead wrong. These apply to all jobs, including technology, engineering, and science. But let’s assume this year was an anomaly. Let’s just blame Covid for skewing the results. Let’s look at this list from 5 years ago. In 2015 the World Economic forum did the same poll. Here were the results then:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Coordination with others
  3. People Management
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Negotiation

Slightly different priority, but essentially the same list. This begs the question; where does technical competence fall? Your technical skills as a programmer, engineer, doctor, or architect. Surely technical skills are probably in the top 10 right? Nope. Here’s the rest of the 2020 list:

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Judgment and Decision making
  3. Service orientation
  4. Negotiation
  5. Cognitive Flexibility

You might think that makes no sense. How is it possible that companies don’t care about my ability to do my job? Well, actually they do. The reality is that your technical skills are table stakes. Your entry into the conversation. Your ticket to the play-offs. Without it, you’re not even in the running. But who’s going to win the Super Bowl? Who’s going to be the MVP? The individuals with these so-called “soft skills”. The
individuals who have developed and polished their professional skills. Because you see, being successful in your job requires more than technical skills. It requires interaction with others. It requires negotiating for funding, it requires implementing your project, it requires getting your product adopted by your customers, it requires human interaction and influence. And the better you are with these inter-personal skills, the
more likely it is that you will be successful overall. And that has nothing to do with how well you wrote that program or developed that widget.


I have a friend who says it this way: “We hire for what they know, we fire for who they are”. While that might seem a little harsh, he’s right. In my own experience as a senior manager at a multi $Billion Fortune 20 company, I started asking myself the question: What are the main reasons individuals in our organization are failing? Technical skill deficiencies or Inter-Personal skill deficiencies? So I started tracking. What I found (and confirmed with my peers) is that 84% of failures (terminations) were for non-technical reasons. The list is long: Communication deficiencies, Failure to fit in with the team, Professional skills, Lack of Self Awareness, Lack of Diplomacy, Lack of Judgement, and on and on. But the bottom line was that 84% of everyone that we had to let go, were for reasons that had nothing to do with how good they were at their technical skills. Don’t just take my word for it though. Research conducted at Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center all confirmed that 85% of career success is determined by non-technical, “soft” skills. In addition to those institutions, the World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that by 2020 “ overall, social skills such as persuasion and emotional intelligence will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills such as programming or equipment operation”. On the positive side, Careerbuilder tracked the average income of individuals with high emotional intelligence vs their low EQ counterparts and found that High EQ individuals, on average, make $29,000 per year more than their low EQ peers. That’s the difference between making $71,000 a year and a six-figure salary. A great example of soft skills producing hard, tangible results.


So then, if we can agree that non-technical skills are critical to your success, even in highly technical fields like IT, where should you start? “Soft Skills” is such an overused term. What does it really mean and of all the “Soft Skills” which are the most important? Where do I start? I’ve coached many individuals and organizations and I can categorically declare that Emotional Intelligence is the most important. This is where I would start. In my experience at least 80% of all non-technical skills can be traced back in some way to one of the following components that make up Emotional Intelligence.

  1. Self Awareness: Fully and accurately understanding your own strengths and weaknesses the way others do. The more accurately you know yourself, the more you understand why others react to you the way they do.
  2. Self Regulation: Managing your actions, behaviors, and habits to maximize your results. Once you understand what makes you tick, the next step is to understand how to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
  3. Interpersonal Observation: Understanding others, reading their subtext, and practicing advanced human behavioral observation. More than 60% of the information needed to successfully interact with others are not obvious. You need to be a human detective to fully understand others.
  4. Behavioral Influence: Mastering the art and science of increasing your influence and building high impact, high return relationships. We very seldom have assigned authority and power. The majority of the time we have to rely on indirectly influencing others.

If you think you are fully competent in all four of these areas, I would challenge you that you are probably at least somewhat deficient in #1: Self Awareness. You are overestimating your skills. We can ALL always be better and we never quite arrive to perfection. I would challenge everyone reading this article to seek out the material or get some training on this topic. There is a lot of information on this topic available for free on the web and some really good training as well. It’s a new year. Consider this: What could you do in the beginning of this year that would provide the boost you need to be much more successful this year than last. Then do that as soon as you can. Start the year off right. Invest in yourself, and if you ask my recommendation, invest in Emotional Intelligence. You will see a guaranteed return.

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