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Rapid changes in technology mean work will look very different in the future - and employers will need to be adaptive to succeed.

If we look back at how we shopped, socialised, studied and worked even 20 years ago, we can see how deeply technological progress has impacted every aspect of our lives. And that trend is only predicted to speed up.

At times the pace of change can be daunting, but with new ways of doing things come new opportunities. That's why Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and the Centre for Work-based Learning have been leading Skills 4.0, a project to define the skills Scotland’s employers and workers will need to seize those opportunities, grow and thrive.

The next industrial revolution?

We are approaching what some are calling a fourth industrial revolution – a shift in the way production is carried out that will result in major upheaval to the structure of society. This change could be greater than anything we have lived through so far.

Factors driving this revolution include things like:

  • Growing access to high-speed internet all over the world
  • Developments in mobile devices like smartphones and tablet
  • New technology like 3D printing for automating manufacturing
  • Increasingly diverse workforces
  • Smarter artificial intelligence and robots
  • More people living long into old age

A shift in focus

Workforces will always need skills in literacy (reading and writing), numeracy (maths) and digital intelligence (using IT and adapting to new technology). However, many technical skills may be less in demand in the future, as more and more will be done by machines.

But machines can't do everything. Staff will still be needed to oversee automated tasks, develop new technologies, and work with other people. Think of areas like childcare, nursing and social care, or building relationships with clients - these are areas where machines are no substitute for people.

Essential skills for the future

Skills Development Scotland and the Centre for Work-based Learning have produced a paper about Skills 4.0 identifying three key skills areas for the future:


  • Focussing: sorting and filtering information; paying attention to the present
  • Integrity: managing your own emotions, strengths and weaknesses; staying true to your principles; self-control
  • Adapting: openness to new ideas; ability to reflect; learning independently; responding positively to challenges and criticism
  • Initiative: courage; independent thinking; risk-taking; decision-making; self-belief; self-motivation; responsibility

Social intelligence

  • Communicating: receiving information; listening; storytelling
  • Feeling: empathy for others; a sense of responsibility for society
  • Collaborating: relationship-building; teamwork; social awareness; ability to adapt to new cultural settings
  • Leading: inspiring, motivating, influencing and developing others; the ability to ignite change


  • Curiosity: observation skills; asking questions; sourcing information; recognising and defining problems
  • Creativity: imagination; generating ideas; translating thoughts, information and emotions into clear words, images and concepts; the ability to reach ideas and solutions through making, tinkering and exploring
  • Sense making: recognising patterns; seeing the big picture; finding useful structures for information and data; noticing opportunities; analysing information
  • Critical thinking: breaking down complex problems; following a logical thought process; using your own judgement; understanding data-based reasoning

A crucial role for employers

These key areas have been dubbed “meta-skills”. Unlike many traditional skills, they can be hard to teach and test in a structured way.

That’s why employers will play such an important part in cultivating these skills in the population. The ideal way to do so is through work-based learning: programmes such as apprenticeships, where learning takes place on the job.

Through apprenticeships, employers can future-proof their workforce’s skill set – and receive government funding to help them do so.

Learn more about apprenticeships at

Read the Skills 4.0 paper

Get a fuller insight into the skills your organisation will need in the future - and how you can start building them today.

Download the Skills 4.0 paper here.