13 Dec 2023

Essential human skills in the age of AI

In this guest article, Skills Builder Partnership reflects on techUK’s Making AI work for Britain report, sharing some of the opportunities skills development offers even as workplace dynamics shift.

AI, automation and emerging technology are shaping the future of work. In this new era, adaptability and the ability to learn become ever more crucial. As our roles further entwine with technology, human skills set us apart. In this article, Skills Builder Partnership reflects on techUK’s Making AI work for Britain report, sharing some of the opportunities skills development offers even as workplace dynamics shift.


The role of human skills

In its report, techUK emphasises the critical value of essential human skills such as creative thinking, analytical thinking, and a curiosity and propensity for learning in the tech-enabled workplace. The transferability of these skills is crucial in the context of job displacement and redefinition, where individuals will need to collaborate effectively with AI systems, make informed decisions, solve complex problems, and adapt to the ever-changing demands of the job market. In this context, there is a need to move beyond the assumptions that such skills are innate and take action to create explicit opportunities for skill development.

Through the Universal Framework, the Skills Builder Partnership has gone further, to tightly define those skills, and break them down into teachable, learnable steps:


The eight essential skills:

  • Listening: The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas.
  • Speaking: The oral transmission of information or ideas.
  • Problem solving: The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge.
  • Creativity: The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas.
  • Staying positive: The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals.
  • Aiming high: The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them.
  • Leadership: Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal.
  • Teamwork: Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal.


The challenge

Over the past decade, demand for essential skills like creativity and problem solving has continued to grow. Research also shows that individuals are only able to leverage their basic skills, qualifications, or experience when they also have an adequate level of essential skills (Essential Skills Tracker 2023).

But we still have a problem:

  • Almost two thirds (63%) of workers feel their human skills are not fully reflected in their education or job history.
  • Nearly half (49%) of UK workers expect the skills required for their job to change significantly in the next five years. 
  • Reflecting on their “soft skills”, techUK observes that fewer than 1 in 5 would rate their soft skill set as excellent.

In navigating the changing landscape, the fact that employees have human skills isn’t enough – you’ll need to know where their strengths and areas of development are to effectively support workers to transition between jobs or sectors, or to new AI-enabled roles within organisations. For those already in the workforce, explicit efforts are necessary to nurture these skills, especially given the often limited opportunities individuals receive from their employers, or may have had throughout their education and training. 


Recruitment for essential skills

The increased need for human skills will need greater emphasis on them in recruitment, and drawing from a wider talent pool.

This shift has the potential to open doors for those without traditional qualifications but with the necessary essential skills to adapt to new roles.  Embracing a skills-first approach to recruitment can expand talent pools by up to 10 times, while 64% of individuals are more likely to apply to a job when essential skills are clearly outlined in the job description.


Staff training and development

The potential for higher essential skills is also already there in your existing workforce. This is where explicit training and development will be needed to nurture these existing strengths and fill gaps.

Defining opportunities for essential skills development is also likely to be popular within the workforce: 92% of UK workers want to develop essential skills, and these skills also support improved job satisfaction.

techUK predicts a rise in organisations adopting ‘cross-skilling’ as a strategy, giving people the flexibility to learn outside their core area of expertise to stay relevant in an ever-changing market. The report pinpoints some examples of roles where the Skills Builder Universal Framework could be used to target upskilling and cross-training opportunities. For example, in education and healthcare automated workflows will reduce the time spent on administrative tasks and increase that focusing on student needs and patient care respectively. For knowledge workers, AI means less time focused on menial tasks and more time spent on creative tasks and undertaking more important work responsibilities that involve thinking and collaboration.

The Universal Framework offers a route map to being able to assess and measure individuals against these skills. By breaking skills into steps, individuals can more easily identify the gaps that are holding them back, and work proactively to fill them - as well as stretching themselves further.


A framework for the future

techUK anticipates a future where working with AI will be as normal as sending an email. To fully embrace these opportunities and tap into the wide talent pool of individuals with the transferable skills required to navigate the changes ahead, the validated and evidence-based Universal Framework sets out a pathway to mastering each of the highly transferable skills that businesses demand.

While AI will force this transformation, it will be human skills responsible for its effective management so that we all thrive in the tech-driven jobs of the future.

Guest blog by Gemma O'Connell, Skills Builder Partnership. Learn more about adopting an essential skills strategy in your business at skillsbuilder.org/employers.

Future of Work

The future of work is changing. Technology is powering a growth in flexible work across the economy, whilst emerging technologies such as robotics and AI are set to become common place. techUK believes the UK must consider the implications of digital transformation in the world of work now, equipping people and businesses across the country with the skills and conditions needed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the 4IR.

Learn more


Jake Wall

Jake Wall

Policy Manager, Skills and Future of Work, techUK

Nimmi Patel

Nimmi Patel

Head of Skills, Talent and Diversity, techUK


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