Nine Skills for the Future

We are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and artificial intelligence are changing the nature of work, replacing rote tasks and jobs, and enabling a significant refocusing of human skills. We are having to rethink what is needed to innovate, evaluate, design and add value. It is the skills of creativity, leadership and critical thinking that organisations will be looking for as machines increasingly drive production, organisation and distribution.
The debate about what these skills look like, which are more important and how students can best acquire them today is being led predominantly by universities, businesses and governments, as they try to define and deliver what is needed for this world of accelerated change.
At CATS Global Schools, we believe the earlier students are involved in this debate, the better. We have recently rebranded as a global community of colleges and schools with the common purpose of “inspiring the next generation of world shapers”. Mobilising staff, teachers and students as early as possible to consider, develop and embed the skills and behaviours that will be needed to lead and thrive – not just survive – in this emerging world is important and inspiring work.
In thinking through where we need to focus to deliver our mission, we took inspiration from a variety of sources for the nine core skills for the future.* Focusing on developing these skills will lead our mission and ensure our students are truly ready for tomorrow’s world:

Nine skills for the future

Analytical skills
  • Cognitive Flexibility
  • Curiosity
  • Data Literacy
Enterprise skills
  • Digital Literacy
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Global Citizenship
Human skills
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Self-knowledge
We are putting a premium on three key areas of skill sets and behaviours that we feel are critical to delivering an education attuned to the future and enabling students to lead with confidence in a world of change.

Analytical skills – Crafting an agile learning mindset

Firstly, cognitive flexibility, data literacy and curiosity are integral to the ‘agile learning mindset’ that we think will be the cornerstone of all future work skills. Being able to think flexibly and having and celebrating a certain ‘plasticity’ in your thinking, will be crucial in keeping up with and not being intimidated by change.
Being able to evaluate seemingly contradictory notions and synthesise meaning, without being dismissive of ideas that do not easily fit within your existing worldview, will be the hallmark of a future learner and leader. The agile learning mindset insists on academic rigour and freedom, and revels in the potential of our thinking, wanting to see this celebrated, not curtailed.
And being endlessly curious, relentless and eager to find the new or better way will be a key driver of success.

Enterprise skills – The three predominant skills

Secondly, we feel three skills stand out first and foremost as being completely non-negotiable.
Digital literacy is the single most important skill that will be needed in the workplace of the future, where almost every position, irrespective of what it involves, will require the ability to be digitally literate. Like numeracy or literacy, it will be foundational.
The next core skill is entrepreneurship. The age of the automatic dominance of the global conglomerate or organisation is in retreat. Everywhere the premium is on what we call ‘start-up’ thinking: the courage and agility to create, be innovative and not let risk constrain reward. The new technologies overtly support this entrepreneurial positioning and we see this skill as being the main cultural driver of innovation. We are only one of two school communities anywhere in the world to have a Bloomberg Business Lab – encouraging this kind of thinking is critical.
The third core skill is controversial. We are unabashed supporters of creating global citizens: students who can embrace opportunity on a global scale. We reject the current zeitgeist of localism, fear of global commitment and the urge to remake a post-COVID world that is less ambitious and more tribal. It is self-evident to us that the students most comfortable with a future world will be those who consider the whole world their stage and no corner of the earth off-limits for their potential contributions.

Human skills – The importance of the emotional wrapper

Finally, the third category of skills and behaviours focus on developing emotionally sophisticated young people. We believe it has been proved beyond dispute that emotionally intelligent, empathetic and self-aware students learn better and faster, help create a more positive learning environment for others and are far better placed to do well in the increasingly complex, multi-issue and stakeholder world of tomorrow than those who are either less emotionally evolved or consider these skills and behaviours to be optional.
According to Daniel Goleman in his seminal book Emotional Intelligence, EQ is a better predictor of life success than IQ.** But our thesis goes much further than this. At CATS Global Schools we believe that fostering well-rounded, holistic students who can be compassionate, kind and understanding, and are attuned to thinking about others, as well as themselves, is a core requirement for future leaders and world shapers.
The core leadership skill of the near future will be the ability to articulate direction and meaning as we navigate change. Doing this will require having the ability to both know yourself and be able to emotionally understand and connect with others.
This ‘emotional wrapper’ will act as a passport, enabling students to have far easier, more genuine and more effective interaction and engagement with their fellow workers. It is absolutely the behavioural bedrock for our three core skills and the agile learning mindset.
Which skills do you feel are the most important to develop in today’s students to help them become the leaders of tomorrow and positive agents of change in the world? Let the debate begin.
Marr, Bernard, (Sept 28 2020), 9 soft skills any employee will need in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Forbes magazine
Morgan, Jacob, (June 2020), The Future Leader, nine skills and mindsets to succeed in the next decade, John Wiley & Sons, USA
Mahaffie, John B, (Sept 15 2014), Nine skills that will help make our children future-ready, Qatar Foundation, (
L Stephanie (June 2020, updated April 2021), Nine skills you’ll need to succeed in a post-coronavirus business world,

Goleman, Daniel, (1995) Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK

“My own tentative ventures into the realm of Generative Pre-Trained Transformers (GPTs) have been both inspiring and terrifying.”

Dominic Tomalin

Principal, CATS Cambridge

It’s undeniable – AI is everywhere. There’s no escaping its reach. My own tentative ventures into the realm of Generative Pre-Trained Transformers (GPTs) have been both inspiring and terrifying. GPT outputs may not be flawless, but they are generated quickly and have often provided a better starting point than a blank piece of paper. By asking the right questions, GPTs can generate compelling responses that could easily pass as human work or even surpass it. While there are countless mundane tasks I would gladly delegate to a GPT, the apparent automation of cognition raises unsettling questions about the role of individual intellect and, for that matter, the point of me: Are my carefully nurtured cognitive capacities and capabilities being rendered redundant?

Change is inevitable

Using machines is not a novel phenomenon. Historical industrial revolutions witnessed the displacement of human labour. In the 19th century, the Luddite movement resorted to breaking automated looms, threatening their livelihoods. Similarly, the advent of information technologies in the late 20th century rendered jobs like typists and filing clerks obsolete. As GPTs gradually automate our cognitive processes, we should expect a significant transformation in our way of life, work, and learning.

The World Economic Forum predicts technology will displace 85 million jobs by 2025, creating 97 million new roles.

This transition is merely two years away, but what proactive measures are being taken to prepare, train, educate, and ensure a smooth transition?

A lacklustre approach to designing a curriculum for tomorrow

Regrettably, the policy responses have been lacklustre. The emergence of accessible GPTs should have come as no surprise to education policymakers and regulators, yet their response has been disappointingly pedestrian. Where is the curriculum that reflects the current and future world? Where are the qualifications and assessment strategies that acknowledge technologies readily available to all? The resounding silence on these matters is disheartening.

There appears to be more concern for preserving the integrity of existing qualifications than for reforming them to meet the evolving landscape. Without reformed qualifications, we cannot truly reform the curriculum. Consequently, we find ourselves incorporating emerging technologies through supplementary activities while delivering an outdated and outmoded curriculum. This state of affairs is immensely frustrating.

The art of asking the right questions

The purpose of education is to integrate the tools of the day, catalysing, facilitating, and accelerating the acquisition and development of skills, attitudes, and behaviours required to thrive in the future. It falls upon all of us to ensure this happens. Furthermore, we must find ways to address the risks posed by these very tools to our ability to comprehend and think critically.

Throughout my career as a teacher, the concept of a skills-based curriculum has been discussed extensively, but progress has been limited. A glance at the specifications for GCSE and A Level examinations reveals a heavy emphasis on content. Meanwhile, our relationship with knowledge and information has undergone a revolutionary transformation.

The advent of open-access GPTs may finally compel the necessary changes in education. Among these changes, there is an urgent need to prioritise critical thinking, the art of asking better questions, and the ability to explore the next level of inquiry.

Most importantly, we must all be prepared to answer the inevitable question that AI will pose: “What would you like me to do next?” Our answers will likely revolve around seeking help to solve problems. Our role will be to comprehend the response, and I suspect AI will be capable of explaining it in ways even I can understand. However, we must also possess the discernment to evaluate proposals in the context of the ‘common good’. To do so, we must be able to answer the question, “What is the common good?” with confidence and clarity. This is more challenging than it might first appear, yet we must be able to answer this question, even though humanity is perhaps as divided as it has been for a generation. Whatever the answer, it will be this that guides the way that we use and live with AI.

And the point of me is…

This, then, is the point of me.

My job is to ask the right questions and enable my students and school community to do likewise.

It must not be left to those writing statistical algorithms, or for that matter, AI itself, to work out what’s for the common good. Only we humans can do that.

That is the point of me. Even with GPTs, I have much to do!