Beyond The Jetsons: What Are The Skills Of The Future?

Claudia Mandelli

My teenage nephew and niece, Nick and Kyra, are now graduating middle school and are faced with their first major decision: choosing the right high school. In 2026, when they’ll graduate from college, 47% of the jobs as we know today are likely to be replaced by technology. What skills will be critical? How can they best prepare? Forward-thinking organizations are asking themselves the same questions.

In an earlier blog, “What If Employees Were Engaged to Work as Consumers Are Engaged to Buy?” we explored how digital leaders foster talent-driven organizations, with a focus on constant upskilling. Now we’ll explore how organizations can manage talent like they manage assets, especially as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent.

Unleashing the human

At risk of dating myself, my childhood visions of the future were shaped by the Hanna-Barbera cartoon “The Jetsons,” which imagined a world where machines provided a comfortable life in outer space. Fast-forward to 2026, we will most likely be well beyond what the writers of “The Jetsons” imagined right here on Earth. Machines are quickly becoming intelligent enough to make our life, and particularly work, more than comfortable, reducing the need to learn “hard skills” tied to procedures or systems.

According to Gartner, in the next 10 years “Employees […] will need to apply creativity, critical thinking, and constant upskilling to solve complex problems. For example, straight coding will be largely automated by 2027, and artificial intelligence (AI) engineers will have to move on to other scenarios as the AI products they create (re)design themselves.”

Forward-thinking enterprises will cultivate complex problem-solving and creativity as core skills, experimenting with non-traditional learning modalities that truly allow learners to stretch their boundaries and unleash creativity and resourcefulness. Examples we are seeing today include mindfulness, self-confidence building, conflict resolution, reverse mentoring, and externships.

Ikigai: A reason for being

The days of set curricula, defined centrally and based on relatively immutable job descriptions, will soon be over. The digital economy demands agility, the ability to adapt rapidly to new market and industry opportunities, disruptions, and shifts. This translates into rapid evolution of what each worker needs to do and know.

Ultimately, lifelong learning will be a critical theme for both the individual and the organization.

Individuals will define and find their own knowledge, networking with experts who have mastered a particular domain. According to Nick Van Dam, global chief learning officer at McKinsey & Co., “Ingredients for developing a lifelong learning mindset include becoming a ‘serial master,’ stretching beyond one’s comfort zone, and building a personal brand and network, among others. […] the ultimate goal involves doing what one loves and discovering ikigai, a Japanese concept that roughly translates to ‘reason for being’ .”

Organizations will cultivate a “tribe mentality, where everyone shares and is more competent” and where each individual draws and contributes knowledge in organic learning communities, dramatically reducing the time to better performance.

Around the campfire

New organizational models will rely less on immutable hierarchies and structures, and more on project teams that form and dissolve based on need. Work meetings will feel like circles around the campfire, where technical workers, functional experts, high-level managers, and data scientists will discuss issues and find new ways to resolve problems, using data that AI and machines have mined, analyzed, and synthesized. This shift implies that different skills will be needed in the future to effectively work as a team. Successful team leads and managers will be less “command and control” and more “connectors,” acting like “hosts around the campfire,” ensuring the fire burns hot, marshmallows are available, and everyone is welcome, by asking the right questions with good data and gathering diverse opinions.

A study conducted by the World Economic Forum identifies a skill change emphasizing empathy, communication, and emotional intelligence, whereas negotiation and flexibility will decline.

In the end…

So, my advice to Kyra and Nick is the same advice I would share with my peers and colleagues as they make critical choices for the future: Strive to embody the very definition of “human.” Do what you love, stretch beyond your comfort zone, seek opportunities to create something new, don’t be afraid to fail, and cultivate empathy. The rest will follow.

Claudia Mandelli

About Claudia Mandelli

Claudia Mandelli is Managing Principal for the Industry Value Advisory Practice in SAP North America, with 18 years of experience in driving business transformation through people. During her tenure with SAP she helped companies identify and optimize the value of their SAP investment with targeted change management, learning and development strategies. Prior to joining SAP, Claudia worked for Hewlett Packard on global, large-scale workforce transformation initiatives for over 65,000 employees worldwide.