Over the past few months, COVID-19 has plunged many parts of the world into a shutdown. Despite schools and offices being closed, learning never stops. What has changed, however, are the type of skills people are picking up. 

According to user data released by Degreed, during this global shutdown, there is a marked trend towards transferable skills, with learners prioritising skills such as communication, change management, and leadership, over more technical hard skills such as Java, PMP, and machine learning. 

Degreed's user data covers a four-month period prior to and during the shutdown. It draws insight from millions of users globally and hundreds of client organisations across various industries, including retail, technology, agriculture, FMCG and engineering.

Taking the average search volume on the Degreed platform in December 2019 and January 2020, and comparing it to search volumes* in February and March 2020, Degreed uncovered a significant increase in searches for communication, design thinking and change management (up 15.5%, 13.8% and 13.6% respectively). 

The 10 skills that saw the largest increase in search volumes over this period were:

  1. Communication - 15.5% increase
  2. Design thinking - 13.8% increase
  3. Change management - 13.6% increase
  4. SixSigma - 12.4% increase
  5. Coaching - 11.0% increase
  6. Microsoft Power BI - 7.7% increase
  7. Data analytics - 5.4% increase
  8. Compliance - 5.3% increase
  9. Time management - 4.9% increase
  10. Leadership - 4.8% increase

This was coupled with sharp decreases in searches for technical and niche skills such as Python, Java (both down 20%) and machine learning (down 36%).

The ten skills that experienced the sharpest decreases over this period were:

  1. Tableau - 14.1% decrease
  2. Angular - 18.6% decrease
  3. Linux - 20.0% decrease
  4. Python - 21.3% decrease
  5. AWS - 23.6% decrease
  6. Cloud - 25.7% decrease
  7. PMP - 26.2% decrease
  8. Data science - 27.1% decrease
  9. Java - 27.3% decrease
  10. Machine learning - 37.6% decrease

While the data shows a preference for skills with a longer shelf-life and that can be transferred to many different roles, the sudden decrease in searches for highly technical skills doesn’t automatically mean that such skills are going to be in decline or are less important now compared to before.

In this unprecedented climate, to mitigate the risk of job loss and enable greater agility and skills mobility, learners are leaning towards skills such as design thinking and communication. Such skills will help them adapt to and navigate the changing business landscape. This is something for L&D professionals to bear in mind when providing learning content to people in this unprecedented climate.

However, Degreed noted that skills in machine learning, for instance, lend well to long-term career development and aspirational learning. Therefore, it is likely that searches for these skills will rise again once the global shutdown ends and businesses and the economy return to near normal.

*Note: For the purposes of the study ‘search volume’ was defined as the percentage of active users searching for a term.

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