Future-Proof Your Job Skills

What employers are actually looking for
An illustration showing bright green seedlings growing

“Which agile skills are most in demand in today’s workforce?” 

It was this question that Scrum Alliance and Business Agility Institute jointly set out to answer in their just-published report, “Skills in the New World of Work.” This 26-page report is chock full of useful data on what employers look for in employees today. 

Agile Acumen at Work

The first thing we can acknowledge is summed up nicely in the opening words of the report: “Agile has won. In technology and product teams, it has become an established way of working in millions of organizations.”

It is no longer a question of “If agile skills are needed,” it has become a question of “What agile skills do you need?” and how those skills weave in with the other critical skills employers seek. 

The key findings in the report list Agile Acumen as the second most demanded functional skill employers seek, second only to Technical Skills. Agile Acumen is “the deep understanding of and experience with agile principles, practices, and frameworks." 

The report classified skills into two categories: Human Skills and Functional Skills. 

Human Skills are commonly referred to as soft skills and cover how people interact effectively with one another. 

Functional Skills are specific knowledge and abilities needed to perform a particular task or job.

Other Work Skills Sought by Employers

The full list of nineteen skills can be seen in the graphic below. In addition to Agile Acumen and Technical Skills, the Human Skills of Communication, Teamwork & Collaboration, and Attitude Behaviors round out the top five most sought-after skills by the surveyed employers. 

The list isn’t all that surprising and aligns with other surveys and research. A March 2023 LinkedIn top ten list shares at least four skills directly with the "Skills in the New World of Work," and a perusal of other reports shows many of the same skills coming up repeatedly. While Agile Acumen isn’t mentioned in these other reports, skills associated with agile come up with surprising frequency. 

A graphic from the Skills in the New World of Work Report showing different work skills sought by employers

Unpacking the Key Skills

While you could just start at the top of the list and work your way down, the report provides some insight for focus in skill areas. What areas should you focus on as a professional working in an organization leveraging agile principles and practices?

Agile & Coaching Skills: Agile organizations can quickly identify and capitalize on new opportunities. They need people to bring this experience to their business and product teams. 

  • Agile Acumen: 36% of all surveyed employers sought employees with these skills. Not just in their coaches and scrum masters—in all their employees. Agile Acumen is further broken down into Agile Techniques & Practices, Agile Methods & Frameworks, Scrum Mastery, and Metrics & Measures. 
  • Product Leadership: If the organization cannot make profitable solutions, then the organization will fail. Agile coaches need to understand the art of Product Management and Product Ownership if they are to be valuable to their employers. 
  • Coaching and Facilitation: These skills are essential for helping teams learn, grow, and be effective. Mentoring is also included under this skill category. 

Communication: The skill to effectively convey your thoughts and ideas to others is the most sought-after skill by all employers. While hard to quantify, it is still in demand by 62% of the surveyed employers. The report groups Communication with Emotional Intelligence and Empathy (25%) and Influence (24%). 

  • Communication: The larger skill is broken down into Written and Verbal Communication, Active Listening, and Presentation Skills, with written and verbal identified as the hardest for employers to find. 
  • Emotional Intelligence and Empathy: The ability to understand and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. I was once called a “hippie agilist” for having the temerity to bring up EQ as an important part of an agile consultant's skill set. Today, employers recognize that people with high EQ build rapport and resolve conflicts more effectively, allowing them to motivate and inspire their team. 
  • Influence: people who are skilled influencers can build trust, communicate more effectively, and negotiate better. This also helps with decision-making and connects to the skill of facilitation. The report breaks influence into four sub-skills: Negotiation, Motivational, Conflict Resolution, and Interpersonal Skills.

Broader Business Skills: with the Product Leadership skill, we highlighted that businesses must generate sustainable profit to survive. This requires freedom, flexibility, and resilience to create sustainably profitable solutions. 

  • Business Acumen: The ability to make informed decisions that benefit the organization and generate sustainable profit. While only 10% of survey employers identified this as a critical skill, they also identified it as one of the hardest skills to find. It makes me wonder if some employers have given up on finding it and are trying to succeed without it.
  • Leadership Skills: The ability to inspire, motivate, and guide others to achieve common goals. The two most in-demand subskills are Managing People and Building & Leading Teams.
  • Transformation Skills: These skills help organizations to improve their performance and adapt to new markets. Transformation skills can involve organization design and change, strategy, culture, and creating sustainable processes. 

Employers Are Asking for “Yes, and…” 

The disturbing trend from the report is that employers are looking for people with multiple deep skill capabilities, typically deep technical skills followed by one or more key skills from the list. 

  • We want a software coder who can also be a people manager, coach, and has strong business acumen, all with an agile background. 
  • We want a product manager who can develop their product in an agile framework. 
  • We want our scrum master also to be a project manager and a developer. 

When looking at this data, we need to remember the famous Henry Ford quote, “If I'd ask customers what they wanted, they would've told me a faster horse.”

While employers are looking for employees to be more efficient and do multiple jobs, we need to help them realize the consequences of efficiency over effectiveness. 

While some skills can logically be combined, such as Technical Skills and Product Design & Analysis, employers continue to push the envelope for what they seek, trying to find the “perfect” blend of skills to get the most out of a single employee. It should not be surprising that 65% of employers rate their difficulty in finding these “unicorn” employees as 4 or 5 out of a scale of five in difficulty. 

Quantitative and qualitative research has shown us that merging jobs results in lost time to context switching, longer task durations, and higher error rates. In short, asking someone to be a scrum master and a software developer is fiscally unsound. 

As a community, we need to help employers understand that a scrum master or agile coach is already a multi-disciplinary employee and what their actual value to the organization is. 

Connecting to the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel

Scrum Alliance has staunchly supported the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel open-source movement. Its mission is to “professionalize the world of agile coaching,” which effectively translates into creating a common definition of skills and a competency framework for growing those skills.

The Agile Coaching Growth Wheel

When we compare the key skills identified in the "Skills in the New World of Work" report to that of the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel, we find strong synergies. 

Agile & Coaching Skills: 

  • Agile Acumen maps directly to the Agile Lean Practioner competency area
  • Product Leadership is contained within the Serving the Business competency
  • Coaching & Facilitation are two of the competency areas commonly lumped into the “stances” of an agile coach. 


  • Communication: Active Listening is a key communication sub-skill and is found in the Growth Wheel's Coaching and Facilitation competency areas. 
  • Emotional Intelligence and Empathy: The core of the Growth Wheel is self-mastery, which starts with an emotionally intelligent relationship with yourself and others. 
  • Influence: The sub-skills of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution are found in the Facilitation competency area. Influence as a whole is a key building block of the Advising competency area.

Broader Business Skills: 

  • Business Acumen: The Serving the Business competency gives you a foundation in this skill.
  • Leadership: We connect this directly to the Leadership competency area.
  • Transformation: This also has its competency area on the Growth Wheel. 

Next Steps: Future-Proof Your Skill Set

The good news is you already have a framework for future-proofing your agile career. By leveraging the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel and connecting that to targeted education, such as the Agile Coaching Skills - Certified Facilitator workshop, you can map out a learning path that will keep you relevant in this new world of work. 

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