The Skills You Want vs The Skills Employers Need in 2021

In our latest blog, we give you a picture of what the job market looks like over COVID-19, but what does the skills market look like? Adzuna surveyed 1,900 UK workers between June and December 2020 and found that 6.8% of respondents ‘definitely wanted to change careers’ in 2021, 7.2% were ‘considering it’ and 11% ‘wouldn’t rule it out’. So with 1 in 4 Brits potentially seeking out new roles this year (15% up from the previous year), understanding the top skills that employers are looking for is arguably more important than ever.

This data strongly suggests that if you’re taking steps in your career this year, you will face considerable competition. The same applies if you’re starting out on the career ladder. To ensure you come out on top, it is paramount that you realign your priorities, that is, aligning them with prospective employers.

The fact is, there is a noticeable difference between the skills employees want and the skills employers need. As 2021 began, Hays surveyed 23,000 respondents and uncovered the skills that organisations are most in need of over the next 12 months. Although both employers and employees value interpersonal and people management skills, there are noticeable differences in the top five skills employers want to see, and employees feel they need. 

This may mean that you have to rethink your priorities and reconsider what assets and abilities to promote on your CV.  Although recognised transferable skills like negotiation and decision making have perennial value, they should not be allowed to divert your focus. Instead, research the skills that are vital to employers right now and get an understanding of why organisations value these abilities.    

What skills do employers need in 2021?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for businesses. To overcome these challenges, employers are prioritising specific skills in their hiring decisions. 

According to Hays research, employers currently favour:

  1. Communication and interpersonal skills (55%)
  2. The ability to adopt change (53%)
  3. Problem-solving (45%)
  4. Flexibility and adaptability (43%)
  5. People management skills (41%)

Employees, on the other hand, focus more on critical thinking (29%), negotiation (27%), and judgement and decision-making skills (26%). With so many prioritising their career this year, why the disparity?

Communication and interpersonal skills

As Hays reported, employers and employees agree on the value of communication as a skill. It’s an attribute that is transferable across all industries. Right now, the communication skills that employers are looking for are more specific. Given the emphasis on remote working, you need to show how your skills are relevant to this environment. 

Online meetings with remote employees are a necessity

Flexibility and adaptability

Given the continually changing environment that we have all experienced over the last 12 months, flexibility and adaptability are a requirement that’s paramount for many employers. For example, technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have become part of the landscape, and job roles have changed. The landscape is likely to continue to change quickly for the foreseeable future. So, you need to be able to show your ability to adapt rapidly and efficiently. 

Ability to adopt change

Change is a reality for most organisations at this point in time. Fluctuating rules and statistics have been a major obstacle for businesses since the global pandemic began. To navigate these obstacles, they need to change, and they need their employees to embrace the change and make it work. If you want to stand out as a candidate for a role, this should be one of the skills you want to develop and demonstrate. 

People management skills

People management is an attribute that both employers and employees value highly. This is not surprising, given that it’s a must-have skill for leaders. In the current environment, the leadership of remote teams is a particular focus for many businesses. Bear this in mind when you’re optimising your CV and providing specific examples on applications. 

People management skills make a good leader


Few businesses have not encountered any problems in recent months. Even those that have fared well, such as online retailers, have faced logistical challenges. So, they need to invest in employees who think creatively and strategically to solve the problems they may face. When applying for a role, give specific examples of the issues you’ve overcome. Remember to include what the problem was, what you did, and what the outcome was. 

These are the skills that employers rate as most crucial overall. However, you should always be aware of the specific skills required for a role. Research the business you want to work for and develop an understanding of what they’re looking for. 

Adapting to Fit the Skills Employers Need to Secure Your Career

Now you have a better understanding of the skills employers need; you should focus on adapting to secure the role you’re looking for.

The good news is that you may already have some of the skills that employers currently prize. Even graduates have experience that they can present to employers. For instance, running a club on campus demonstrates people management skills. Critically examine the skills you already have that you can adapt to working in the business you’re applying to. 

Depending on where you are in your career, there are other steps you can take to address the balance between the skills you want vs. the skills employers need. 

  • Concentrate on time management abilities as being flexible necessitates an ability to manage your own time efficiently.
  • Develop your emotional intelligence (EQ) as this is a vital aspect of good leadership.
  • Obtain an internship or apprenticeship in a fast-paced environment where you can develop your ability to be flexible and adaptable.
  • Take on an interest or challenge that’s outside your comfort zone. Doing this enhances your ability to embrace change and allows you to solve problems along the way.
  • Seek out a mentor either within your organisation or externally. There are many benefits to doing this, including developing a network and learning from someone who has more people management experience than you.

Always focus your CV and application on the skills the employer needs. This is not to say that you should abandon the skills you want, but you have time to develop them once you have secured the career change you’re looking for. 

This post was last modified on 30 April 2021


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