Top 4 Critical Skills Employees Need to Develop

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Top 4 Critical Skills Employees Need to Develop

In its Critical Skills Survey, the American Management Association (AMA) unveiled the four most critical workforce skills that need to be developed. Many of these skill gaps are also extremely common among the organizations we serve at ERC. Here’s an overview of the top four critical skills as well as recommendations on how to close these gaps through training and development in your organization.

1. Communication

Communication refers to the ability to convey one’s ideas orally and in writing. In surveys conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership and AMA, communication is cited as not only a critical skill needed by the workforce, and also as a critical skill needed among leaders. It was also identified as a skill in which younger workers are most likely to need development. Effective communication is expected to grow in importance over the next 10 years.

Growing employees’ communication skills involves helping them build rapport with others, practice listening strategies, use both effective verbal and non-verbal communication, give and receive feedback, orally present information to others, and write clearly.

Communication is most effectively developed through classroom training, one-on-one coaching, and on-the-job practice.

2. Collaboration

Collaboration refers to the ability to work well and productively with others. Collaboration is not only a critical skill among the workforce and leaders, based on the surveys by AMA and the Center for Creative Leadership, but is also a skill in which employers perceive a need for significant improvement in their workforces.

Building employees’ skills in collaboration involves helping them understand team and group dynamics, how to build consensus, interact and communicate effectively with others, make decisions as a group, and manage conflict to generate win-win solutions.

Collaboration can be developed through a combination of classroom training on different topics such as team-building, collaboration, communication, and conflict resolution; as well as through group facilitation or team building activities which allow employees to practice interacting with others. One-on-one coaching is typically less effective for building skills in collaboration.

3. Critical thinking

Critical thinking, the third critical skill identified by AMA, refers to the ability to resolve problems, make decisions, and take appropriate courses of action on tasks. It is a necessary skill at all levels of the organization—from individual contributors to leaders.

As organizational problems become more complex and organizations increasingly seek new solutions to their unique business problems, critical thinking and problem solving will be crucial skills that employees will need to enhance.

Critical thinking and problem solving can be developed through classroom training, but are also suited to other forms of development including case studies, project work/on-the-job opportunities, coaching, and mentoring.

4. Creativity

Finally, creativity is another critical workforce skill. While AMA defines creativity as “the ability to see what’s not there and make something happen,” creativity is often referred to as the ability to come up with novel and unique solutions. Although creativity was the least concerning to employers of the four skills and was less likely to be developed by employers when compared to communication and collaboration, it was still considered very important by organizations.

Developing employees’ skills in creativity involves helping them learn how to analyze business problems, brainstorm innovative solutions, and evaluate those solutions. Classroom training, coaching, and group facilitation can be effective formats for developing this skill.

Creativity, however, is often a more “innate” skill that frequently needs to be “tapped” and motivated versus developed because there can be mental blocks such as unwillingness to take risks, fear of failure, or under-confidence. As a result, non-traditional development techniques such as empowerment and assertiveness can aid in enhancing creativity.


Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are skills that will be critical for your workforce both now and in the future. Make sure that you continually train and develop these skills throughout your workforce to give your organization a competitive advantage.

ERC Training provides customized learning and development solutions nationwide.

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