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5 Competencies for the future

What does current research say about future competencies? What skills will employees and managers need in the future? Eight studies with a combined total of more than 3,000 respondents were included in our metastudy. Overall, 64 competencies emerged as particularly important in the studies. We give you an overview and focus on the 5 most important future competencies.

What skills will employees and managers need in the future?

Competencies are a compass of requirements

When proven or newly hired employees are assigned new areas of activity, this is not done solely on the basis of their formal educational qualifications. The content of a degree simply says too little about how well a person will do at their new job. But even comparing the new job with the tasks in the previous position is not always meaningful. This is especially true where the position or industry is changed along with the job. So on what basis can it be decided whether a person will be qualified for his or her new duties?

The answer is provided by a look at their competencies. Over the last twenty years, competencies have become accepted as a standard of assessment – even when it comes to the targeted further training of employees (Erpenbeck and Sauter 2019). Competencies can be measured and trained (Sauter and Staudt 2016). Many companies are developing complete competency models to uniformly capture what skills they expect from their employees and managers (Gessler and Sebe-Opfermann 2016).

The advantage of competencies as a measure of qualifications is that, while they are specific enough to derive concrete skills of a person from them. At the same time, they are general enough to ensure that a person can use them to deal with new and completely unexpected situations. This is because competencies are the skills that enable people to solve problems independently and creatively (Erpenbeck 2013). This makes them vital for survival in today’s highly dynamic corporate environment, where digitization, globalization, and hypercompetition pose new challenges to managers and employees alike on a daily basis (D’Aveni 1995).

Aim of our meta-study

If the competencies of employees determine the efficiency and thus the survival of companies, then the question arises as to which competencies will be particularly important in the future. To answer this question, we at Strametz looked to see if there are any overarching future competencies that are important regardless of the specific job description. Our meta-study is based on surveys and interviews conducted with HR experts and executives in the German-speaking (DACH) region in recent years. We wanted to know which skills respondents thought would be particularly important in the coming years.

Result: What are the most frequently mentioned competencies?

Eight studies with a combined total of more than 3,000 respondents were included in our metastudy. Overall, 64 competencies emerged as particularly important in the studies. We have summarized all competencies for you here.

In order to organize them in a first step, we used the division into four competence fields that is widely used in competence research: Personal competencies, social competencies, methodological competencies, and professional competencies (Erpenbeck 2013). In the process, we came across two results:

First, a great deal of continuity can be discerned. Among the most frequently mentioned competencies are the classic social competencies of communication, the ability to deal with conflict, the ability to work in a team, and the ability to cooperate. In the field of self-competencies, creativity, resilience, willingness to learn, confidence and self-organization are also classic competencies. Decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, and process understanding are found among the methodological competencies and have also long been important. Among the professional competencies, leadership knowledge and knowledge about people can be mentioned as general competencies. This means that the competencies that already make companies successful today will remain important in the future.

Secondly, however, the challenges of the future are also emerging. Many studies show that skills such as networked thinking, dealing with complexity, the ability to deal with uncertainty, and digitalliteracy will become particularly important in the future. And this applies to all employees, because the selected studies did not focus on identifying specific professional competencies that would be important only for certain groups of employees. Rather, it can be stated that certain digital professional skills and knowledge of basics in dealing with people in the organization are relevant for all employees.

We were not surprised by the results of the meta-study. For years we have been analyzing and training the competencies needed to be successful in and with companies. We see the results of the meta-study as confirmation of our work.

Five competencies in our focus

We ourselves have refrained from subdividing an unmanageable number of individual competencies into four competency fields. Instead, we have limited our focus list to five competencies, but at the same time cover all competency areas. We have identified communication skills as a crucial social competence. In the end, in the cooperation between people, it is also the prerequisite for the effectiveness of almost all other competencies. It includes the ability to express oneself clearly and understandably, to listen to others, and to resolve conflicts communicatively.

The most important self-competence in our eyes is self-leadership. Only those who can lead themselves will be effective externally. In the first step, this includes self-awareness through reflection and processing of feedback. Being able to act autonomously and self-responsibly on this basis and to actively steer oneself leads to self-efficacy. This competence is therefore an important factor in developing one’s own sovereign identity.

From the spectrum of methodological competencies, decision-making competence stands out particularly in our eyes, which is why we have included it in the focus list. Everything that cannot be calculated must be decided, says Reinhard Sprenger (2020). Decision-making competence therefore means not only possessing methodological competencies such as the ability to make judgments and understand processes, but also putting them into practice through active entrepreneurial decision-making.

Strametz’ future competencies

The two of the five Strametz focus competencies not yet mentioned coincide impressively with the results of the meta-study. In our eyes, two of the critical competencies in the coming years are change capability and prioritization competence.

Prioritization competence describes the ability to distinguish between important and unimportant, right and wrong, urgent and less urgent. In a complex environment that holds a flood of information thanks to digitization, it is impossible to act meaningfully without this prioritization competence. Corresponding to this are skills such as situational sensitivity and interpretive power. This competence is sometimes also referred to as selection competence, since it is also a matter of recognizing the relevant information from the abundance of information.

The ability to change means being able to withstand the uncertainty that affects people and organizations from a constantly changing environment. This is achieved by also creating a certain level of security that enables you and the employees in the company not only to adapt to changes, but also to be able to trigger them themselves.

Conclusion and summary

In this meta-study, we restricted ourselves to study results from German-speaking countries. However, large studies of future competencies among companies in the US, UK, and Australia come to very similar conclusions (Bakhshi et al. 2017; alphabeta 2019). This makes it clear that in the future, on the one hand, classic competencies such as self-management, decision-making skills and communication will continue to be essential. On the other hand, the study results also underline that complexity management, change readiness and prioritization skills are becoming increasingly important in order to be able to cope with the uncertainty and pressure for change that companies are facing. In the coming years, digital skills such as digital literacy and basic digital skills will be added. They also play an important role, and we have described in a separate white paper which digital skills executives should possess in the future.

Looking at the competencies of the future, it becomes clear that many of the classic competencies remain as important as ever. In this respect, skills training does not need to be reinvented. However, decisive competencies must be added so that companies can be successful in the future despite complexity, dynamization, uncertainty and digitalization. With our special training approach of Active Learning, we prepare employees and managers for these future challenges within the framework of specially developed, dynamic and complex learning simulations.

You can download this whitepaper, including an overview of the 64 competencies, free of charge from us. Please also have a look at the know-how section and click on the download link below.


alphabeta (2019): Future Skills. Prepared by AlphaBeta for Google Australia. Ed. v. alphabeta strategy x xeconomics. Available online at https://www.alphabeta.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/google-skills-report.pdf.

Bakhshi, Hasan; Downing, Jonathan M.; Osborne, Michael A.; Schneider, Philippe (2017): The future of skills. Employment in 2030. London: Pearson and Nesta.

Cloots, Alexandra (2020): Digital competencies: What it takes and how to learn them. In: Sebastian Wörwag and Alexandra Cloots (eds.): Human Digital Work – A Utopia? Insights from research and practice on the digital transformation of work. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, pp. 257-268.

D’Aveni, Richard A. (1995): Hypercompetition. Strategies for the new dynamics of the markets. Frankfurt/Main, New York: Campus-Verl.

Eilers, Silke; Möckel, Kathrin; Rump, Jutta; Schabel, Frank (2017): HR Report 2017: Focus on competencies for a digital world. An empirical study by the Institute for Employment and Employability IBE on behalf of Hays for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Ed. v. Hays. Mannheim.

Erpenbeck, John (2013): What “are” competencies. In: Werner G. Faix, John Erpenbeck, and Michael Auer (eds.): Education, Competencies, Values. Stuttgart: Steinbeis-Ed, 297-353.

Erpenbeck, John; Sauter, Werner (2019): Stop the competence catastrophe! Paths to a new world of education. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Gessler, Michael; Sebe-Opfermann, Andreas (2016): Competence models. In: Michael Müller-Vorbrüggen and Jürgen Radel (eds.): Handbuch Personalentwicklung. The practice of staff education, staff development and work structuring. 4th, revised and expanded edition. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag, pp. 159-184.

Graf, Nele; Gramß, Denise; Althauser, Ulrich; Runge, Wolfgang (2020): Competencies for the new world of work – which metacompetencies make employees fit for the future. A study of the most important generic competencies of employees today and tomorrow. Ed. v. Initiative “Wege zur Selbst-GmbH” e. V. Available online at https://selbst-gmbh.de/.

Kirchherr, Julian; Klier, Julia; Lehmann-Brauns, Cornels; Winde, Mathias (2018): Future Skills: What skills are missing in Germany. Future Skills – Discussion Paper 1. in cooperation with McKinsey[&]Company. Ed. v. Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft e.V. Essen. Available online at https://www.stifterverband.org/download/file/fid/6360.

LinkedIn (2017): Soft skills dominate the professional world of the future. Ed. v. LinkedIn Corporation. Available online at https://www.presseportal.de/pm/64022/3733927.

Lüneburg, Anke (2020): Future Competencies for the Working World 4.0. In: Anke Lüneburg (Ed.): Erfolgreich sein als Führungskraft in der Arbeitswelt 4.0. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden (Essentials), pp. 9-36.

Reimann, Sascha (2020): Maturity Test for New Work. Skills for the crisis. In: managerSeminare (266), pp. 48-56.

Sauter, Werner; Staudt, Anne Kathrin (2016): Competence measurement in practice. Recording and analyzing employee potential. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler (Essentials).

Sprenger, Reinhard K. (2020): Schuldloses Verschulden – Der Konflikt zwischen Gesundheit und Freiheit. In: Penguin Verlag (ed.): Corona and Us. Food for thought for a changed world – texts by Jakob Augstein, Nikolaus Blome, Thea Dorn, Esther Duflo, Gerd Gigerenzer, Stephen Greenblatt, Yuval N. Harari, Matthias Horx, Boris Palmer, Reinhard K. Sprenger, Nassim N. Taleb and many others. Harari, Matthias Horx, Annette Mingels, Boris Palmer, Reinhard K. Sprenger, Nassim N. Taleb and many others. Munich: Penguin Verlag.

Stachel, Claudia; Ahrens, Oliver; Bauer, Eva-Maria (2019): Fit for Work 4.0. In: managerSeminare (258), pp. 55-62.

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