The Future of Work: 15 Timeless Skills For the 21ST CENTURY

The future of work is changing rapidly. But some skills will always be in demand, no matter what the job market looks like. In this article, we’ll explore 15 timeless skills that will help you succeed in the 21st century workforce.

Written by Murray Johannsen. Feel to connect to the author by Linkedin or by email.  

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” ― Mark Twain

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One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” – Elbert Hubbard

Are you looking to future-proof your career? If so, you need to learn the 12 timeless skills that will be in demand in the 21st century workforce. Discover the ones that you need to have to prosper in the future.

Timeless Skills Are Hard to Automate

The future of work is changing rapidly. As technology advances, machines are becoming more capable of automating tasks that were once done by humans. This has led to concerns that many jobs will be lost to automation.

However, not all skills are equally susceptible to automation. Some skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving are difficult for machines to replicate. These skills are referred to as “timeless skills” since they are essential for success in any job regardless of the technological landscape.

A List of 12 Timeless Skills

A report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that 30 percent of jobs on Earth could be automated by 2030. If that is the case, the question becomes what work skills will machines not be able to do? Below are fifteen possibilities.

1. Leadership

This skill is essential for success in many jobs, especially those in supervisory, management or executive positions. Leaders are responsible for motivating and inspiring others, setting goals, and making decisions. If you have leadership skills, you will be able to transition a group into a team. Besides that, many managers lack leadership skills.

2. Self-Motivation/Initiative

Some bosses want you to be simply be obedient. But most, would rather you to take action without being told. In today’s fast-paced world, businesses need employees who can think for themselves and take the initiative. If you have initiative, you can use your skills to identify and solve problems, take on new challenges, and make a difference.

3. Teams Work (Collaboration)

In today’s workplace, teams are often required to work together to achieve common goals. If you are a good collaborator, you can use your skills to work effectively with others, share ideas, and build consensus.

Ah sure, many business professors require group work in class. But they fail to teach students how to evolve a group into a team. Reminds me of telling someone to “go ride a bicycle” and then not bother to explain what the pedals are for.

4. Problem Solving

For some odd reason, professors have mixed up problem-solving and decision-making. It seems that many just assume that what we need to do in life is is make good decisions. Somehow, we forgot that to make a good decision, we first have to get good at problem-solving.

A better way to think about  this goes, “Executives make decisions, managers solve problems.” Therefore an executive cannot function without a number of skilled subordinates who distill a problem into limited set of alternatives.

This skill is also essential for success in any job. For in today’s ever-changing world, problems are inevitable. Most managers would no doubt agree, with the observation, “New day, new problems.”

Chart with List of 13 Skills Employer Want
List of 13 Skills Employers Want. Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers

5. Persuasion

Sales is a great place to start a career and you don’t need a college degree (unless you are in technical sales and a company would not hire a business grad in any case.) Despite the huge number of jobs available, business schools typically don’t have classes on sales. I don’t get it. You can find a course on sales management, but not on selling.

6. Self-Directed Learning 

This skill is essential for success in today’s ever-changing world. As technology and the economy change, businesses need employees who can learn new things on their own. If you are a self-directed learner, you can use your skills to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies while developing the skills you need to succeed in your career.

7. Intuition

Here’s the thing. Machines need data, lots and lots of it. That’s both a strength and a weakness. Its recommendations may be no better than a human guessing when data is lacking or is wrong. For example, entrepreneurs need to have a finely developed sense of intuition that can function in environments of uncertainty and risk.

I have been told that AIs naturally calculate the probabilities of a set of recommendations. What you do if one option has an assigned probability of 60% and the other 40%? Flip a coin?

8. Communication (Especially Verbal Skills)

This skill is essential for success in any job, as it allows you to effectively pitch a message for all to understand. In today’s globalized world, businesses need employees who can communicate effectively with people from different cultures and backgrounds. If you are a good communicator, you can use your skills to build relationships with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

Intelligence is not necessarily correlated with the ability to communicate. One sees these with some professors who seem to take pride in confusing everyone in a classroom.

An example of a timeless skill — one most people are terrible at — listing.

9. Mastery of Self — Resilience

 This skill is essential for success in any job, as it allows you to bounce back from setbacks and challenges. In today’s competitive world, businesses need employees who can handle stress and adversity. If you are resilient, you can use your skills to overcome challenges and achieve your goals.

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10. Emotional intelligence

This skill is often overlooked, but it is essential for success in many jobs. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. If you have emotional intelligence, you can use your skills to handle difficult conversations, build rapport with others, and navigate challenging situations. While there are different models out there, my favorite one was proposed by Daniel Coleman. Component skills include: self-awareness, self-management, achievement motivation, empathy and human relations.

11. Ethical Decision Making

Many in business who call themselves a manager are surprised to find out that a MANAGER IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL. Among other things, business schools lack a code of conduct such as the Hippocratic Oath, which is used in the health professions.

Therefore, if you are ethical, you will stand out and attract a following for others are most likely to trust you. Here is a thought question for you. Is it really ethical to replace workers to maximize profits — to cause suffering of the sake of greed?

12. Foresight, Vision, and Imagination

People who live in the present bug me. One can’t just “live in the present” — that’s something birds do. And birds do fine in the summer time. But I have seen many lying dead in the snows of winter.

If you don’t think about the future, if you lack foresight, you will likely suffer needlessly in the winter of your life. One needs to think about what the future looks like and act in the present to make that future happen.

13. Adaptability

This skill is essential for success in today’s ever-changing world. As technology and the economy change, businesses need employees who can adapt to new challenges and opportunities. If you are adaptable, you can use your skills to learn new things, take on new challenges, and thrive in a changing environment.

14. Creativity

This skill is often overlooked, but it is essential for success in many jobs. Businesses are looking for employees who can come up with new ideas and solutions to problems. If you are creative, you can use your skills to come up with new products, services, or marketing campaigns.

15. Critical thinking

This skill is essential for success in any job, as it allows you to analyze information, identify patterns, and make sound decisions. In today’s world, where we are constantly bombarded with information, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and separate fact from fiction.

Still, it must be said that the AI will be better at it than most humans when it comes to analyzing data to discover underlying patterns. That’s not saying that human judgement won’t be important in the cases where spurious correlations lurk.


These are just some of the timeless skills that are essential for success for success in the future of work. ome of these skills are essential to the context of dealing with people.

Some will be enhanced if you know how to work with AIs. These skills include ones such as: critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and decision making.

If you want to future-proof your career, it is important to develop these skills.

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Last Update June 28, 2023

Work Skills For the 21st Century