Four Skills to Fast-Track Your Career Growth

By Mary Kathleen Loyola, MSc in Communication Management Student, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business 

Rapid technological advancement is bringing on the Fourth Industrial Revolution—and with it, a critical need for professionals armed with both technical and interpersonal skills.

In fact, by 2022, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that 42 per cent of the core skills for today’s jobs will have changed. For members of today’s workforce, as well as those just entering the job market, staying relevant is contingent on learning new skills.

But where should you start? Here are four key skills that can serve as a foundation for further learning and equip you to thrive in the modern workplace.


Data analytics

Many companies can now collect or tap an unprecedented amount of information. However, access to data does not automatically mean an ability to derive valuable, impactful insights.

“You have to have the data … [but] without talent, it’s meaningless,” AT&T’s senior vice president of big data, Victor Nilson, says in a 2016 McKinsey report. “Talent is the differentiator. The right talent will go find the right technologies; the right talent will go solve the problems out there.”

While your role might not need you to be a data scientist, a solid grasp of analytics can still give you a big advantage. When you can make sense of data—be it financial figures, customer metrics, and so on—you gain a more nuanced understanding of the business, and are better-equipped to offer targeted solutions.


Design thinking

“Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage,” writes IDEO CEO Tim Brown in the Harvard Business Review. “They would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process.”

Design thinking can help you offer novel, effective solutions to your company’s most intractable problems. As a methodology, design thinking champions human-centred innovation. This means the use of design principles to craft fresh, viable strategies based on consumers’ needs and desires. At its best, as Brown notes, design thinking “can identify an aspect of human behaviour and then convert it into both a customer benefit and a business value.”

The good news is that you can practice design thinking, even outside of designated design roles. IDEO notes that aptitude in this area stems from characteristics like empathy; a broad, integrative perspective; optimism; and an openness to experimentation and collaboration. With the right workshops or training programmes, you can hone these skills and apply them to your own projects, no matter the role or company.


Digital literacy

Within the next 20 years, 90 per cent of all jobs will need some degree of digital skills, according to FutureDotNow, a coalition of companies and civil society groups in the UK. As business processes become more technical, digital literacy will equip you to perform higher-order tasks and collaborate across different teams within your company.

Do note that digital literacy doesn’t simply mean expert programming skills. Rather, it points to a broader comfort with technical skillsets, even if you might not be an expert technician. Familiarity with the basics of programming, as well as enthusiasm for learning more about emerging fields like cloud computing, can give you a valuable head start.



The importance of technical skills has increased sharply, but soft skills are also becoming more valuable in the modern workplace. Leadership encompasses a range of “human-oriented” skills like emotional intelligence, initiative, critical thinking, and social influence—all of which are essential for organisations navigating today’s ever-changing business landscapes.

In the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs report, the majority of companies expect that automation and technological advancement will create “new jobs that play to the comparative advantage of human skills.” Companies, however, will need the ability to manage these structural shifts and close emergent skill gaps. As a member of the workforce, then, there’s much value to be found not just in reskilling yourself, but in empowering others to excel, as well.


Invest in lifelong learning

Job security and career growth remain top concerns for today’s workforce. With the disruptions brought by technology and increasingly complex industries, however, we face a changing picture of what security and growth might look like.

As the World Economic Forum notes, lifelong employability now rests on the ability to hone new, relevant skills. At SMU, this focus on long-term development is a hallmark of our Master’s programmes. Initiatives like the Professional Development Series offers postgraduate students the chance to acquire fundamental skills beyond their specific course of study. These, in turn, complement their programme curriculums, allowing our graduates to enter (or continue in) the workforce armed with well-rounded skillsets.

To learn more about how SMU Masters can help you excel in the workplaces of the future, browse through our programmes here.