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The most in-demand skills that you can prepare for (or invest in) to pivot your career or hireability

By Shane Schick

The first half of 2020 has seen so much disruption, so many jobs lost and so much uncertainty that choosing the right career skills might feel like a guessing game.

Instead of guessing, however, we should be estimating the best skills, based on what we already know.

While many businesses had to temporarily close their doors and lay off staff amid the global pandemic, for example, the need to provide products and services never really went away. And as economies slowly reopen around the world, organizations are going to need the best talent more than ever before if they want to return to growth.

As the term “estimate” implies, you can make some educated guesses about where the greatest needs for skilled workers will be, based on freely available data that suggests where organizations are focusing their energies.

In some cases, these areas relate to initiatives that had already begun and have only accelerated as a result of COVID-19. In others, the nature of what organizations want to do has changed slightly, given heightened concerns around the safety of employees and customers.

When you understand these priorities, you begin to see that the skills relating to them don’t fall into standard categories like “sales,” “marketing” or even “IT.” They speak to a diversity of inter-related skills that may have you working in one department of a company, or across several at once.

1. Customer Experience Skills

We all have horror stories about calling a company for service and support and being kept on hold forever. When you have a bad experience as a customer, you don’t hesitate to warn your friends and family about the company in question. They know that which is why they’re trying to be more proactive about improving.

In fact, many organizations are creating distinct roles around customer experience (which is sometimes abbreviated to CX). These are people who will carefully profile their typical customer, try to create marketing campaigns that talk to them in the right way, make the process of purchasing easier and, yes, providing top-notch service and support.

According to market research firm Gartner Inc., however, 70% of companies struggle to design CX projects that lead to greater loyalty among customers. This often comes down to not having a clear idea of how customers are behaving and where their frustrations are.

The best way to begin developing CX skills, therefore, is to improve your ability to make sense of information. Get a certificate in data analytics and, whether you’re new to the job market or have a previous track record in an area like marketing, you may be in a better position to help an employer nurture better relationships with their customers.

2. Digital Transformation Skills

Of course, even the best-intentioned companies won’t do a great job of serving their customers if their organization still runs the way it did 10 or 20 years ago.

If you’re just looking for your first job, don’t be surprised to learn how many paper-based processes continue to exist within well-known companies. Even with the prevalence of messaging apps, they may rely more on phone calls and e-mails to communicate. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, these things are so commonplace they might only trigger a shrug or an eye roll.

Many companies have realized they needed to pursue what’s called digital transformation, where they make the most of the technologies available to create better business results. This can even include far-flung areas like artificial intelligence (AI), where the impact on jobs is still an open question.

COVID-19 kicked a lot of those digital transformation strategies into high gear as employees had to be equipped to work from home and many products were only available via e-commerce.

A recent report from the consulting firm Deloitte showed that companies identified by their executives as well along the road to digital transformation were three times more likely to achieve revenue growth in the last year.

If you had been considering business analytics courses or online and in-class coding courses, explore them via the prism of digital transformation to think about how you’ll present yourself to employers. How can you use what you know to help get them out of an analog mindset? How can you develop applications that make them more innovative? That’s what they’ll want to hear.

3. Privacy And Compliance Skills

The ease of creating, managing and sharing information online has come at a price. Hackers have recognized the value of all that data customers hold on behalf of customers and have been quick to find ways to steal it.

Even if an organization manages to keep rogue actors at bay, they might make errors that accidentally expose or lose customer data, with equally disastrous consequences. No CEO wants to have their company getting covered in the media as the latest cybersecurity casualty.

Meanwhile, laws like the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation and Canada’s own CASL privacy law have forced organizations to prove they’re complying with the standard rules around managing data.

No matter how else the world changes, this is going to remain a big area — the latest research shows 70% of firms plan to increase cybersecurity spending.

There are plenty of cybersecurity courses to build up your skills in this area. Over time, you may want to specialize in areas like mobile security or in areas of compliances that pertain to a specific industry, like financial services. The main thing is to think of these skills as strengthening trust — trust from consumers, from government and anyone else who has to deal with a particular organization.

What all these skill sets share is a holistic perspective on what an employer is trying to do to be successful, and a commitment to ongoing learning to support them. The news might make things look dire, but now is not the time to give up — investing in your education is the surest bet in 2020 you can make.

Shane Schick is an editor and writer focused on technology and marketing. He is also an advisor to CourseCompare, which helps Canadians develop new skills and pursue their passions. He is based in Toronto.