Future Skills for the 2020's
A New Hope
Report by GEF & WorldSkills Russia
This research was initiated by WorldSkills Russia and executed by Global Education Futures, with major support from WorldSkills International and triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.

This report is for Vocational Education & Training practitioners & policy shapers, the WorldSkills movement, business people, academia, media and learners of all ages interested in trends and skills

This report has been contributed to by over 700 experts from 45 countries all over the world and explores implications for 7 industries, and their Vocational Education & Training needs. It also explores opportunities for local & international collaboration to establish learning for 'Future Skills'.
Deputy Director General WorldSkills Russia,
WorldSkills International Board Member
Ekaterina Loshkareva
"We believe that the outcomes, either sector-related or those that have implications for Education & Training in general, will give us a New Hope.
We hope to inspire changes that will help young people (and lifelong learners) to be better prepared for the coming decade."

Fundamental Skill Set

Our analysis across sectors resulted in a recurrent set of skills that appear to be fundamental, or universally critical

Cognitive Foundational
Internal skills of self that help us adapt and thrive in an increasingly complex & uncertain world

  • Adaptability, Future Thinking & Navigating Accelerating Change, Coping with Uncertainty & Crisis
  • Critical & Creative Thinking, Understanding Biases, Intellectual Humility
  • Multi-disciplinary versatility & Systems thinking, Understanding Complexity & Seeing our Role in Systems
  • Learning to Learn, Unlearning, Intellectual Humility
Technical & Digital
Skills that connect to the 2020s tech reality and help use the full potential of digitised workplaces

  • Digital Skills, including AI Skills & Big Data, and Emerging Technologies (e.g. Blockchain, AR/VR/MR…)
  • Cybersecurity
  • Programming & Controlling Robotics / IoT
  • Tech Integration & Bridging
  • Neo-crafts & Services (incl. 3D Manufacturing)
  • Basic Skills for Digital: Mathematics & Logic, Reasoning
Socio-Economic & Cultural
Relational skills that support prospering in teams and across communities & networks

  • Collaboration & Teaming (On & Offline – incl. Trust Building)
  • Facilitation & Co-creation
  • Entrepreneurship
  • UX / UI Design / User-centric Approaches*
  • Agile Project Management*
  • Human, Social & Emotional Skills: Kindness & Compassion, Empathy, Conflict Mediation
  • Paperless / Visual Communication
  • Interdisciplinary, Cross-sectoral & Cross-cultural Communication, Storytelling & Advocacy
  • Language Skills
Green & Universal Wellbeing
Skills that ensure we are building a thriving future for all life

  • Environmental, Practices, Sustainable & Regenerative — both Technological (e.g. Carbon Footprint Analysis, Lifecycle Management, etc.) & Human (Reconnecting with Nature)
  • Awareness & Well-being (incl. Taking Care of Oneself — Mental Health, Intentional Downtime, Self-protection)
  • Diversity, Multi-cultural Awareness, Inclusion*
  • Ethical Decision-making*
Skill clusters are broad families with fuzzy boundaries. Skills that could fit in multiple clusters are denoted with '*'

Most Significant Skills by 7 sectors

Detailed key skills tables on pages 84 and 85 of the report

What are the skills needed today to build a thriving future for all? The message from hundreds of experts participating in this research is clear, we must:
  • Collaborate, adapt and transform
  • Embrace future-orientations and technological tools
  • Embody well-being of people and planet as our primary purpose
The only way to rebuild planetary health and create the abundant thriving planet that sustains the future humanity and the rest of life is by human beings becoming the healers of the places they inhabit, rather than exploiters.
International Futures Forum Research & Innovation (Spain)
The most critical professional or general skills necessary in the 2020s are adaptability and a willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn. The most important change in the education system would be to integrate skills (an appropriate mix of hard and soft depending on the sector) into the higher education system
Chief Executive Officer at Etalon Global Solutions (Jamaica)
It is important to prepare learners to adapt or to cope with the unexpected, how to be innovative and brave to find new solutions, how to meet and solve the problems of today for the success of our societies. A transformative competence, an ability to create new value, to shape the world and our future, where well-being and sustainability is perceivable for everyone.
Head of Development Services City of Helsinki

Three Horizons

The Three Horizons model, created by Bill Sharpe of International Futures Forum, conveys the idea that social or economic system change usually comes in three waves

For high resolution Download PDF version or go to page 64 of the report

Horizon 1 is dominant at the beginning of transition, the existing system or 'business as usual'. As the world evolves, the existing system may increasingly fall out of place.

Horizon 2 is a wave of innovations that rises to mend the shortcomings of Horizon 1. These innovations 'fix' the system, but this can be superficial, not necessarily changing the underlying premises upon which the system operates. That is the task of the wave of deep 'operating system' innovations, Horizon 3, that begin to take root as the 'transitory' Horizon 2 disrupts the existing system.

Horizon 3 innovations then work their way towards economic viability, and a new system is established.
Emerging Paradigms of the 2020s
These paradigms weave together interdependently with blurred boundaries. Indeed, integration surfaced as a recurring theme throughout our research e.g. weaving combinations of skills together, and/or across sectors.
  • 1
    From inert things to smart environments. Everything is programmable and interconnected. Cybersecurity is critical, and digitalisation drives change. New social classes defined by technological literacy can be seen today.
  • 2
    From globalised supply chains and economies of scale to relocalised independently resilient production networks serving local communities and bioregions.
  • 3
    From standardised produce to creativity-infused products. Human-centred design, personalisation and creativity are becoming the norm across all sectors. As automation increases, technology empowers the rise of the 'creative class' — anyone can be a creator.
  • 4
    From alienated consumerism to participative experience-based economy. Prioritising experiences over material consumption helps bridge social, cultural divides, connecting us to the present & our environment. The consumer can become the producer & co-creator.
  • 5
    From linear systems to networked complex structures. COVID-19 reminds us that everyone and everything is interconnected. Personal, societal and planetary well-being are inextricably entwined in everyday social ecosystems.
  • 6
    From extractive to regenerative economy. From industrial revolution hierarchical command, control & conquer styles and Take-Make-Use-Lose consumption mindsets to nature- inspired, emergent, distributed, zero waste, life-centred, holistic, long-term, purposeful perspectives and abundance mindsets.
Maps of the Future
The report maps the future of 7 sectors, covering 90% of the world economy
in terms of GDP & employment
Manufacturing & Engineering
The top three most likely scenarios for the sector are increasing demand for collaborative skills, customisation & personalisation and transitioning to life-centred, regenerative & circular business models. The sector may lag behind other sectors in the transition away from 'business as usual' (-8% v other sectors)
Construction & Infrastructure
The clearest scenario emerging for the sector is the transition to lifecentred, regenerative & circular business models, the strongest scenario in any sector and 15% stronger here than other sectors. Our research predicts predominantly large companies driving change through mergers and consolidation (much more so than other sectors)
Transportation & Logistics
This sector faces an era of unprecedented change. The most significant factors affecting skills in the sector today are accelerated by COVID: remote work, relocalisation, strict hygiene in delivery and reduced spending and others. As digitisation takes hold and customer expectations evolve, new technologies are enabling greater efficiency and more collaborative operating models, reshaping the marketplace.
ICT & Digital
The ICT sector employed 1.7% of the global workforce in 2019. Whilst this is smaller than other sectors considered in this report in terms of employment, it is certainly one of the most impactful for the future of all sectors of the global economy.
Human-centred & Social Services
Human-Centred and Social Services is one of the largest sectors of the global economy, both in terms of employment and the share of GDP, even though there is no exact estimate for the composition of sectors listed above. The 'large' service sector (which also includes ICT, creative sector, public services, finance and healthcare) amounts to 61% of global GDP. The wholesale & retail sector (only one of subsectors) alone accounts for 17% of global employment.
Creative Industries
The sector shows strong trends towards environmental advocacy and transformative economies in the coming decade. These are the most likely scenarios (14% more than other sectors), with high impact on skills in the decade ahead, according to our sector experts. The arts sector in particular, has historically been at the forefront of change movements — indeed, change itself could be viewed as natural artistic expression. Increasing personalisation and demand for multi-disciplinary generalists are also highly likely this decade, and more so than most other sectors.
Agriculture & Ecology
Agriculture is the art and science of cultivating the soil, growing crops and raising livestock. 4% of global GDP is attributed to agriculture, yet it employs 26% of the global workforce, more than any other sector. Also, concerns for food security, climate change and soil depletion (rapidly making many regions of the world unsuitable for food production) may again raise the importance of this sector in the world. Ecological services do not have established accounting of their own yet — largely because they are developing as a new paradigm of design and production within many economic sectors.
Core Team
Report contains the results of a foresight cycle and expert meetings co-hosted by GEF and WS in 2017- 2020.

We are especially grateful to:
We started to work on Future Skills in 2015 and from the beginning we tried to make this work as practical as possible. So, the results of the first foresight projects have been implemented in competitions on Future Skills at WorldSkills Russia competitions, and the report "Skills of the Future: how to thrive in the new complex world" (2017) provided a basis and inspiration for the Future Skills zone at WorldSkills Kazan 2019


To explore collaboration opportunities, please reach out to us at partners@globaledufutures.org and rda@worldskills.ru or fill in the form

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Global Education Futures Foundation & WorldSkills International.