Sharpen Your Soft Skills

5 skills employers are looking for in 2020

Industry 4.0 has brought about so many new technologies, it’s logical to think employers would be looking for people with highly technical skills. Experts are discovering the opposite, however. More and more, organizations are looking for people with outstanding soft skills. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 “Emerging Jobs Report,” as automation increases, so will the demand for uniquely human skills.

“Skills like communication, creativity, and collaboration are all virtually impossible to automate, which means if you have these skills, you’ll be even more valuable to organizations in the future,” said Guy Berger, principal economist at LinkedIn.1

Here—in no particular order—are five soft skills experts agree you’ll need to succeed in 2020.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking includes skills such as reasoning, evaluating, problem solving, decision making and analyzing—all of which are increasingly important in today’s world of information and data overload. Employers are looking for people who can sort through the constant stream of data and judge what is reliable and what isn’t.

“It’s about being able to objectively evaluate information and how it should be used or even if it should be trusted by an organization,” said author and futurist Bernard Marr.2

Critical thinking also helps employees find ways to improve the complex business processes and strategies brought about by changing technology.3

Emotional intelligence

In the age of technology and machines, there’s at least one skill humans have that robots don’t—emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”4 In other words, it’s the ability to understand why people react to things the way they do.

According to Victor Prince, a leadership author and principal at thoughtLEADERS LLC, it’s a critical skill for relationship-centered jobs. “As products and services get more complex, the ability to explain and sell them to other people will be essential ...,” Prince said. “Being able to read and react to customers’ and colleagues’ reactions will be an increasingly important skill ”5

Decision making

Although seemingly commonplace, Terina Allen, strategist and executive coach, pinpoints effective decision making as the most underrated skill needed to be successful.

“Decision making is underrated because people tend to credit others as competent in it without making any meaningful observations or assessments,” Allen said. “Yet, a skill deficit in this area can create disastrous results for employees and organizations. Its importance is most appreciated after organizational leaders try to reactively remedy a catastrophe rather than when they should have been proactively trying to prevent one in the first place.”6

Many people believe the rise of technology means we’ll be making fewer and fewer decisions as machines become smarter and more powerful, but Marr disagrees.

“Machines might be able to analyze data at a speed and depth humans are incapable of, but many decisions regarding what to do with the information provided by machines must be still made by humans,” Marr said. “Humans with the ability to take input from the data while considering how decisions can impact the broader community, including effects on human sensibilities such as morale, are important members of the team. So, even if the data support one decision, a human needs to step in to think about how a decision could impact other areas of the business, including its people.”7


According to a new World Economic Forum report, “The Future of Jobs,” chief HR and strategy officers believe creativity is one of this year’s top three skills. New technologies, new ways of working and new products are forcing people to become more creative in the way they benefit from those changes.8

“It’s essential that creative humans are employed by companies to invent, imagine something new and dream up a better tomorrow,” Marr said. “Tomorrow’s workplaces will demand new ways of thinking, and human creativity is critical to moving forward.”9


As it relates to job skills, flexibility means a few different things, such as adaptability and a person’s willingness to mold themselves to the constantly changing workplace. The need for certain skills comes and goes, and people must be ready and willing to learn to stay relevant and employable today and in the future.

“People need to commit to learning new skills throughout their careers and know they must be adaptable to change,” Marr said. “Important to this is understanding that what worked yesterday isn’t necessarily the best strategy for tomorrow, so openness to unlearning skills is also important.”10

Flexibility also refers to cognitive flexibility—or the ability to quickly and easily jump from one task to another, or juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. It means being open to new ideas, and new ways of thinking and doing things. “People who can find and apply new frameworks to quickly understand and shift between changes will be a step ahead,” Prince said.11

A unique skill set

While this list touches on only five skills employers will be looking for this year, one thing is clear—as the adoption of technology and machines continues to rise, organizations are looking for people with strong soft skills—the uniquely human skills that can’t be automated.

—compiled by Lindsay Pietenpol, assistant editor


  1. Guy Berger, “The Jobs of Tomorrow: LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report,” LinkedIn, Dec. 10, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/emerging-jobs-report.
  2. Bernard Marr, “The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking for in 2020,” Forbes, Oct. 28, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/skills-cos-looking-for.
  3. Victor Prince, “The 10 Most Important Job Skills for 2020,” LinkedIn, Oct. 3, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/most-important-skills.
  4. Kendra Cherry, “Overview of Emotional Intelligence,” Verywell Mind, Sept. 30, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/ei-overview.
  5. Prince, “The 10 Most Important Job Skills for 2020,” see reference 3.
  6. Terina Allen, “The Most Underrated Skill That You Need to Be Successful,” Forbes, Nov. 9, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/most-underrated-skill.
  7. Marr, “The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking for in 2020,” see reference 2.
  8. Alex Gray, “The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” World Economic Forum, Jan. 19, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/skills-to-thrive.
  9. Marr, “The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking for in 2020,” see reference 2.
  10. Marr, “The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking for in 2020,” see reference 2.
  11. Prince, “The 10 Most Important Job Skills for 2020,” see reference 3.


Report: Data, AI Jobs Are Fastest Growing In 2020

Jobs related to data and artificial intelligence (AI) were highlighted as top jobs in the United States for 2020, according to LinkedIn’s “Emerging Jobs Report.”

According to the third annual survey, data sciences jobs are some of the fastest growing and are starting to replace legacy roles. Data scientists “may be augmenting responsibilities traditionally done by statisticians as some industries, like insurance, gear up for the future,” according to the report.

AI jobs have grown because AI has become so pervasive in fields like cybersecurity and data science, as well as real estate and business development.

More than 50% of this year’s U.S. list was made up of roles related to engineering or development, with the emerging field of robotics appearing for the first time.

For more on the U.S. results as well as other countries and regions, visit https://tinyurl.com/linked-emerge-jobs.

New @ ASQ

What’s on our minds

ASQ has unveiled two redesigned journals recently: Software Quality Professional (SQP) and the Journal for Quality and Participation (JQP). SQP is a quarterly journal dedicated to covering how software and systems affect quality practices. The December 2019 edition of SQP is open access for anyone to read. Visit asq.org/pub/sqp to view and download the full issue.

JQP is also a quarterly publication. It covers topics including leadership, employee involvement and teamwork, and how process improvement in these areas can affect quality, customer satisfaction and organizational performance. JQP’s January issue is also open access. Visit asq.org/pub/jqp to view and download the full issue. Call 800-248-1946 to subscribe to either publication or modify your member benefits.

Nearly 200 new articles, reports, infographics and other pieces of content from the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) are now available to ASQ members. The new content—published in late 2018 and 2019—covers topics such as supply chains, Quality 4.0, digital transformation and the digital workplace. This content is available on ASQ’s website. To review the additions, visit https://tinyurl.com/asq-apqc-content.

I. Elaine Allen, an ASQ senior member and frequent QP contributor, has been named one of the Online Learning Consortium’s 2019 class of fellows. Those in the class were recognized late last year at a ceremony in Florida for their contributions to the field of online, blended and digital learning. Allen is a professor of biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, and emeritus professor of statistics at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. She is also the director of the Babson Survey Research Group. 

Applications for the 2020–2021 Ellis R. Ott Scholarship—available through ASQ’s Statistics Division—are due April 1. The $7,500 scholarships are awarded to students in master’s degree or higher programs with concentrations in applied statistics or quality management. The 2019–2020 scholarship recipients were: Patricia Aubel of the University of California at Davis and Kayla Reiman of Carnegie Mellon University. Since the scholarship was started 23 years ago, the division has awarded more than $345,000 to 60 students. For more information and an application form, visit https://my.asq.org/communities/files/177/2559.

Getting to know

Willis Jensen

Current Position: HR analytics business partner, W.L. Gore & Associates, Flagstaff, AZ.

Education: Doctorate in statistics from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA.

What was your introduction to quality? As an undergraduate, I took a class on statistical methods for quality that opened my eyes to a whole field of applications, including design of experiments (DoE) and statistical process control (SPC).

Is there a teacher who influenced you more than others? Why? Scott Grimshaw at Brigham Young University taught my very first introductory statistics class so passionately that it helped confirm that I wanted to do data analysis as a career.

What is the best career advice you ever received? Focus on making a real contribution and impact on the organization and everything else will follow.

Any previous noteworthy jobs? Six Sigma coach training Black Belts and Master Black Belts for two years at 3M.

What ASQ activities do you participate in? Editorial boards for ASQ journals, previously part of the steering committee for the ASQ Fall Technical Conference.

Have you published anything? More than 20 refereed articles—covering issues including DoE and SPC—in different journals, including the Journal of Quality Technology and Quality Engineering.

Any recent awards? Selected as an ASQ fellow in 2019, a three-time winner of ASQ’s Statistics Division’s Shewell Award and 2017 winner of the division’s Nelson and Bisgaard Awards.

What are your favorite ways to relax? Cycling, golfing, traveling, playing board games and going on date nights.

Personal: Married to Jeni with six children.

What books are you currently reading? I love history books. Favorite authors include Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough.

Do you have a favorite blogger? I follow a variety of blogs, but I love the work done by the FiveThirtyEight team. To check out the blog, visit fivethirtyeight.com.

What was the last movie you saw? “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

Quality quote: “Connected data eats big data for lunch.” Big data, consisting of large amounts of data, is getting a lot of hype, but it is much more valuable to focus on linking your different data sources together.

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this article

Add Comments

View comments
Comments FAQ

Featured advertisers