Is the Talent War a Trait War?


Almost every week an article appears that discusses how most of us trained for jobs that will not exist in the future.  Some estimates indicate that new or “yet to be defined” jobs will make up as much as 80 percent of the occupations ten years from now.  If the past ten years provides a snapshot of the future, then we are well on our way to realizing those estimates.  The top ten “in demand” jobs in 2010 did not even exist in 2004.  Karl Fisch summed it up best: “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies that haven’t been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”  In other words, economic and technological change is so dramatic now that many skill needs are not even known.  Moreover, most would agree we possess a public education system focused on teaching skills and behaviors that are progressively less relevant to the real world.  Put simply, our education system excels at preparing people to work in the early or middle 20th century.

Given the nature of current environment and the state of our educational system, what can we do as employers to ensure that we have people that will keep us competitive in the global economy? It starts with “having the right people on the bus.” Research pinpoints three abilities that are vital to the future regardless of occupation and how it might change:

  • Communication – Almost every vocation requires active listening and the ability of share ideas effectively.
  • Adaptability – Successful employees must have the ability to recognize the direction of change and have the flexibility and initiative to adapt to it.
  • Problem solving skills – Problems and issues change over time, but tools provide a common method of addressing new challenges.

IBM completed an example of this research last year. They conducted interviews with 1,709 CEOs around the world to prepare a white paper entitled Leading Through Connections.  The report is available at  While the report found that human capital occupies a position of preeminence in the minds of CEOs, the more interesting finding relates to what CEOs feel that they need from employees in the future.  Instead of particular skills, most identified traits that would help employees adapt to an environment of constant change and renewal.  The top four traits include:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Flexibility

Not surprising, the findings correspond with the results of other research.  As we attract and retain talent, what people are capable of is likely to be more important than what they have.  Consequently, assessing traits may be more critical than ever.

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