If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it is to be prepared for the unexpected. It has ushered in a new era for not just health and safety, but also for employment and business practices. 

As we step into the new year and learn to adapt to the ‘new normal’, one question many of us ask is: How do we reinvent and upskill ourselves for the post-pandemic world?

The State of Skills 2021, a global survey conducted by EdTech company Degreed to evaluate the effect of the pandemic on workforce skills, answers this very question. The survey, which diagnoses the state of workforce skills as ‘endangered’, compiled data from over 5,200 respondents. It found that while the pandemic has accelerated the need for new skills, it has also reduced the number of opportunities for upskilling and reskilling.

In the face of these uncertainties, the survey gives us hope and sheds light on the best possible course of action in the coming years. Its detailed findings provide an in-depth analysis of the gaps in skills and tell us exactly where we can focus our limited energies. 

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways from the survey: 

1. Technology Skills Are Most In Demand Globally

The lay-offs and job displacements because of the pandemic have forced workers to not just refresh their current skills, but also build new ones. Among those surveyed globally, the strongest demand is for technological skills, followed by social and communication skills. 

For the survey, respondents were provided a taxonomy of 25 skills developed by McKinsey Global Institute and asked to select the five skills they’d most like to develop. It found that workers, team managers and business leaders were most keen on developing basic digital fluency and skills pertaining to technology and programming. 

Despite the surge in remote working, however, social skills have not taken a backseat, coming second (and third) only to advanced IT and programming in the list of top five in-demand skills. In fact, it seems that the move to virtual teams and remote workplaces has called for greater efficiency in leadership and management as well as communication and negotiation skills.  

The ranking differs slightly across countries, sectors and roles. 

  • Trend In India

In India, social skills topped the list of most in-demand skills, followed by advanced IT and programming skills in the second place and entrepreneurship and initiative-taking in the third place. 

  • Sector-wise trends

In sectors such as financial and business services, industrial manufacturing, and technology and telecommunications, technology skills took the lead again. This was followed closely by leadership and managing skills. For the healthcare sector, it was the other way round as it valued social skills more. 

  • Trends for different roles

The ranking of skills varied according to role or job profile. While professionals in HR, finance, IT and operations preferred to develop their technology skills, marketing and sales professionals gravitated towards leadership and management skills.

2. Need For Upskilling And Reskilling Strongest In India

The pressure to develop new skills in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt most strongly by professionals in emerging economies such as India, Mexico and Brazil. When asked “Do you agree that COVID has accelerated the need for me to acquire new skills?” India stood out with 72% workers voting “yes”. Brazil and Mexico follow closely behind with 62% and 56%, respectively. 

  • Sector-wise trends

When this data was collated for different sectors, workers in the technology and telecommunications sector (77%) turned out to be most vociferous in their demand for developing new skills. They were followed closely by professionals working in financial services.

  • Trends for different roles

Among different profiles, IT (75%), marketing (69%) and HR (68%) professionals felt the need for new skills the most. This was because many of them had faced sudden and substantial changes in their job descriptions, brought about by the pandemic. As a result, the pressure to upskill was the strongest among them.

3. Opportunities For Upskilling And Reskilling Have Reduced 

While the pandemic resulted in an accelerated need for new skills, the survey found that the opportunities for upskilling and reskilling had reduced significantly. Almost half the workers surveyed (46%) felt that development opportunities at work were harder to come by, with employers dialing down on providing upskilling and reskilling opportunities amid the global health and economic crisis. This lack of support for professional development was felt most acutely by workers in emerging markets such as India (72%), Brazil (62%) and Mexico (56%), which coincidentally are also the countries that need the new skills the most. 

  • Sector-wise trends

When collated for sectors, the data revealed that technology and telecommunications professionals felt the lack of support for their development the most (60%). They were followed by professionals in financial services (52%)

  • Trends for different roles

Among roles, IT (59%), marketing (58%) and HR (56%) professionals once again topped the list of workers who felt that their employers were not willing to invest in their professional growth and development.


As businesses reinvent themselves to thrive and grow in a changing economic environment, it’s only logical that the workforce does the same. Hence, it’s important for individual workers and businesses alike to identify the areas of improvement and focus their energies there as both time and money are in short supply. 

Shreya Sengupta is a Manager, Academic Operations at Harappa Education. A media and publishing professional, she loves her dog, all things food, dancing, and travelling (not in any particular order).

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