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8th September 2017

Future Proof for 2020: Do You Have the Top 5 Sustainability Skills to Survive?

by Shannon Houde

Last year, the World Economic Forum produced a report on the ‘Future of Jobs’, in which they outlined the 10 skills we’ll all be needing by 2020. I was revisiting this report recently for an executive coaching project I’m working on, and got to thinking about what their projections mean for the sustainability jobs market. How can sustainability professionals be 2020-ready? How can organizations future-proof their hiring strategies? 

Image © Ran Berkovich via Unsplash.

It’s clear that the trends the report identifies are being felt already: cloud computing, mobile internet and big data are changing the way we do our jobs. By 2020, it predicts that the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ will be here, with robotics, artificial intelligence and automation making some roles obsolete. Admin, manufacturing and construction jobs will sink, while business, financial operations and management will rise. And the work itself will change as geopolitics, consumer ethics, climate change and access to scarce natural resources become increasingly material to corporate strategies.  

These technological and socio-economic contexts present significant staffing challenges for CEOs. As Susan Winterberg at BSR says, “business leaders … must tackle how to take advantage of the productivity and innovation opportunities presented by automation technologies while also ensuring a smooth workforce transition.” The successful jobseekers of the future will be the ones who anticipate these trends, and the successful businesses of the future will be the ones that are hiring and upskilling in line with them. 

In such a dynamic business environment, it goes without saying that the sustainability sector will have to adapt and evolve in tandem. Those of us working in the field need to prepare now to ensure our careers are 2020-ready, and boards and HR teams need to get their house in order to guarantee their edge in the fight for talent. Here are five of the most important skills for future that we all need to take note of now, with a sustainability lens:
Designing solutions to meet complex challenges will be the Number 1 activity of the future sustainability professional

Complex problem solving 

This is probably the most important skill to have on your CV by 2020. Designing solutions to meet complex challenges will be the Number 1 activity of the future sustainability professional, even more so than it is now. Problems will occur across multiple business-critical areas, sometimes out of nowhere, and companies will need people who are ready, willing and able to respond effectively. Start thinking about how you can hone your problem solving abilities in your current position and look for ways to evidence them on your CV for your next role.   Best not to call it “problem solving” on your CV as that is vague.  But show the reader with an accomplishment statement of what you did and how.

Critical thinking (and innovation)

This connects to problem solving above, but it’s distinct, in that it describes the ability to ask the right questions from a variety of different perspectives and to really interrogate the options. It also implies a solid understanding of the business landscape, as well as the trends in technology, science and socio-economics.  Bringing that macro-level view down to the micro-level of decision-making and picking apart the assumptions and biases will add serious value to your offer as a sustainability professional. Again prove this to the reader in a solid accomplishment statement or two that shows how you have challenged the status quo and can think with an innovation lens on. 

Creativity (and adaptability) 

This is something no machine can do. Creativity is crucial in telling and selling sustainability stories, both internally and externally, which you need to do if you want to inspire people and have them follow on the journey. The best sustainability professionals take a creative approach to their work and understand its role in translating complex messages for diverse audiences (I talk about sustainability communications in greater depth in this post). But there’s more to it than simply storytelling. It’s about the way you respond to change too, how adaptable you are, as Alex Grey at WEF points out: “With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes.” 

Negotiation (and influencing) 

This one isn’t new, but it is more crucial than ever. How do you expect to broker change if you can’t negotiate effectively? Being able to strike difficult compromises with internal and external stakeholders requires a robust rationale and a titanium-strong evidence base, as well as influence. Some people are born with an innate ability to negotiate, and lucky them! For the rest of us, it’s something we learn in the heat of the fire. If you are yet to develop this side of your professional practice then look out for a senior mentor who you can shadow at meetings. Great negotiation skills can really set you apart in the jobs market, so commit to enhancing yours. 

Emotional intelligence 

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, has been on the radar of the corporate talent agenda for many years since 1995 when Daniel Goleman wrote a book by the same.  Just look at all the mindfulness courses and CPD modules that major companies like Google are offering their employees (I wrote a post on this recently). They understand the importance of being able to keep your ego in check and empathize with other people, especially when things are fraught and solutions seem hard to find. EQ is also connected to the ability to coordinate with others and manage teams of people, which are crucial skills when moving towards a common goal. Evidencing these more subtle qualities on a CV can be tricky, so look for tangible proof points to highlight in your personal achievement statements. 

If you’d like some bespoke help getting your CV 2020-ready, check out my website www.walkoflifeconsulting.com. I also work with organizations to future-proof their HR strategies and upskill teams – find my executive coaching services here www.walkoflifeleaders.com.

This article was originally published on Triple Pundit.

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8th September 2017

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