Top Skills and Certifications for the Knowledge Economy

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Do you have the skills you need be a competitive candidate in today’s knowledge economy? What can you do to ensure that you have the skills that employers look for when they are hiring and promoting employees? Sixty-three percent of workers learned new work-related skills (or upgraded their skills) in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center study. For some workers, this involved taking classes, earning a certificate, or even receiving a degree. For others, this involved attending conferences, attending a training session, or going to a seminar.

The Knowledge Economy

The knowledge economy relies primarily on the production, distribution, and use of information and ideas rather than physical or mechanical abilities. Many jobs across industries are part of the knowledge economy. These range from academic researchers to programmers to software developers to health workers doing research and data analysis. All of these jobs require applying knowledge to serve other people in some way.

In this economy, the knowledge of its workforce is the greatest value a company has. And with today’s ever-changing technologies, employees need to constantly stay on top of the latest information and skills.

To survive in the fast-paced knowledge economy, people are developing and upgrading their skill sets. By knowing what skills are most crucial to the knowledge economy, and then acquiring those skills through certificate programs and other means, you can impress your employer or, if you are on the job market, impress any hiring manager.

Developing New Skills and Why

Many different kinds of workers and job seekers are engaging in professional learning to develop new skills, which is also known as upskilling. However, according to Pew Research Center, certain workers are more likely to continue learning than others.

Many professional learners are college educated and are earning solid incomes. Many work in government, education, or non-profit organizations. These people often have the means to continue their education, and many of their jobs require continued professional development.

However, people of all education levels and from all industries participate in upskilling, and they do it for many reasons. Some do it in hopes of preserving their jobs in the face of competition. Others do it to develop skills so that they don’t lose their jobs to automation. Others do it to expand their business networks. Still, others do it because it is required for their job, for a promotion, or for a new job at a different company.

The Top Skills for the Knowledge Economy

The job-related skills that employers want in their employees vary by industry and by a specific job. However, there are certain skills that are considered extremely important in almost every job in the knowledge economy. Generally, the top skills are a mix of soft skills (skills that involve interacting with others) and IT skills. These skills can be combined into hybrid skills, which are a mix of hard and soft skills that can enhance a candidate's competitiveness of a job.


Communication is a critical soft skill for almost everyone. Employees need to be able to speak clearly and politely to colleagues, clients, customers, and others. Through written and oral communication, workers must be able to convey their innovative ideas, decisions, questions, and more.

Related skills: Clarity, friendliness, interpersonal skills, oral communication, presentation, teamwork, written communication


The knowledge economy requires workers to be able to develop skills and become comfortable with new technologies on a regular basis. Therefore, employees need to be open to learning new things, and be flexible about taking on different tasks.

Related skills: Adaptability, multi-tasking, being open to feedback, open-mindedness

Information Communication Technology (ICT)

Information communication technology (ICT) refers to one’s ability to use everyday technologies like computers, tablets, and mobile phones. It also relates to one’s ability to perform certain tasks like sending emails and using basic computer software (including Microsoft Office).

Other important ICT skills vary based on one’s industry and specific job. For example, some jobs might involve other software programs or might require coding skills. People in the knowledge sector need to constantly develop skills in the technologies that are necessary for their jobs.

Related skills: Business intelligence (BI), coding, data analytics, information technology (IT), web design

Lifelong Learning

Because most employers encourage employees to continue learning, they want to hire people who are interested in continuing their education. Therefore, employees need to simply demonstrate a passion for lifelong learning in a variety of relevant subjects.

Related skills: Ambition, motivation, passion, self-directed learning

Problem Solving

Employees in the knowledge economy need to use their knowledge to solve real-world problems. They might use data to help doctors treat patients more efficiently, for example, or conduct historical research to teach students or the public about a significant moment in history. Whatever the job, employees need to be able to recognize problems and solve them using creativity and innovation.

Related skills: Analysis, creativity, critical thinking, decision making, innovation, originality

Certificate Programs to Develop (or Upgrade) Your Skills

Once you know what abilities you want to develop, consider the multiple ways you can learn and grow. For example, you can take courses online or at your local community college. Make sure the course is taught at an accredited institution and/or is well-reviewed by people who have taken the course before. You might also ask your employer about in-staff training opportunities or attend conferences or conventions in your field.

One of the best ways to develop skills is to participate in a certificate program. Certificate programs are short-term training programs that help you develop the skills necessary for a particular job. There are certificate programs in all industries, ranging from healthcare to business administration to the arts. These typically cost money, but they are less expensive than a degree program, and they often take less time. They usually range from a couple of months to a year.

Check out some popular online certificate programs, as well as certificate programs at your local community college. If you belong to a professional association, check to see if there are recommended certificate programs. These are just some of the options to consider:

Business Management

Depending on the program, a certificate in business management can help you develop skills in leadership, ethics, finance, marketing, international business, and more. It is a good certificate for people interested in moving into leadership positions in business.

Leadership and Management Certificate

A certificate in leadership and management can help executives or potential executives develop and improve their leadership skills. These skills can range from conflict resolution to effective communication to negotiation.

 Microsoft Certification

Almost every job requires some knowledge of Microsoft programs. Through Microsoft, you can take online courses in all sorts of Microsoft skills and programs, and you can also take similar courses through other organizations, both online and in person. Certification topics range from data engineering to Microsoft Office to database management.

Project Management

A certificate in project management is useful for anyone who leads a team or directs projects. The certificate can help you improve your leadership skills, your organization, and your ability to meet and exceed project goals. There are also free online courses you can take to upgrade your skills.

Risk Management

Risk management certificates have become increasingly popular among professionals. These programs teach people to identify and measure various business and financial risks. A risk management certificate is valuable for people in a variety of positions in finance, business, and economics.