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Planning for recovery: putting project management skills first and foremost

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What are the top five skills wanted by employers? Is it initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling? Or is it creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence? One is doing and the other thinking.

You have guessed: It’s the latter – at least, that’s according to a new piece of research from LinkedIn. Looking across the economy as whole, digital skills top the list of in-demand ‘hard’ skills, but the research shows a raft of high-level people-centred skills are much sought-after as well. “Tech dominates, but with a human touch”, as LinkedIn puts it.

That echoes APM's recent ‘Projecting the Future’ report on the future of the project profession. Building on the profession’s core specialist skills, it found that two areas – digital skills and so called ‘soft’ leadership skills – would be critical to the profession’s ability to thrive in the decade ahead. At the heart of our report was the idea that the profession’s future lies in being “adaptive”: at home with change, adept at providing leadership on complex projects in dynamic, changing circumstances, and with a mindset that recognises the need for continual investment in personal development and training through life.

In the wake of that research, some commentators have argued that vocational and soft skills not degrees will shape the future of work (as in this useful World Economic Forum article). Members of professional bodies might point out this isn’t new: in many fields, professional standards, like our Chartered Project Professional (ChPP), are well-established ways of focusing on the vocational skills required for the current marketplace.

This has implications for all of us. As we live longer, thanks to medical innovations and social improvements, we will inevitably have to work longer. At the same time, we are likely to see an incredible amount of technologically-driven change across the economy in the next two decades – what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As a result, during the course of those longer working lives, we’re likely to experience unprecedented upheaval and disruption to the labour market: Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming capable of doing work that once seemed the preserve of humans. So a fresh look at what skills we will need over the coming years, and how we develop those skills, is absolutely critical. Looking at the future through this lens should be high on every professional’s agenda when thinking about their own careers and development and the future of the organisations they work for.

It’s also essential that this moves to the top of the government’s priority list as it thinks about support for skills, and indeed reskilling and resilience. There’s added urgency thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which has accelerated the need for being agile and repurposing. The recent announcement on life skills and apprenticeships by the prime minister, focusing on providing greater access to learning opportunities for many people, is welcome, as is the ‘Start Something’ initiative for the vulnerable promoted by the Prince’s Trust. But many of the changes trailed will not come into effect until April next year. We should be moving faster and going further.

This is the time to be more ambitious – by giving individuals more direct control of funding for their development, and a say in it? Our Projecting the Future paper on skills and the future of work highlights the example of Singapore. Since 2015, the SkillsFuture Credit scheme has given all Singaporeans aged 25 and above an opening credit of S$500 – around £300 – to take ownership of their own skills development. Another top up of S$500 will be added at the end of 2020, with the explicit aim of helping individuals to learn, reskill and seize new career opportunities. Could a similar model be adopted here?

Whatever the policy landscape, APM will be working hard to ensure that it reflects the changing skills needed by employers to support and develop project professionals. We’re reviewing the APM professional competence framework and will soon look at what approach and content is best for continuing professional development (essential to professional lifelong learning) to ensure that they support the skills – both technical and wider leadership skills – that are needed both now and in tomorrow’s economy. We will be working to build awareness of chartered both in the UK and globally, to build the visibility of the profession. And we will be redoubling outreach work to young people, including students and apprentices, while also looking at how we can support mid-career switchers who are joining the project profession at a later stage of their careers.

If we really are going to ‘build back better’ on the other side of the pandemic, project management skills should be centre stage in all of our recovery plans – ‘project reset’, if you will – for government, for employers, and for us all as individual professionals.


Image: JoeZ / Shutterstock


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  1. Emma Dannemiller
    Emma Dannemiller 13 October 2020, 10:40 AM

    Hello Sue, I think your message is timely. Many organisations are faced with rapidly changing demands in complex and newly understood contexts. Diversity and openness is key. On a personal note, it's good to hear about you again and see you in this role. I remember you from the TfL days and Olympic transport strategy, those were great challenges and great fun. Best wishes. Emma