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4 workplace skills you need right now
You really ought to learn to code...
 
If kids in third grade can handle coding, so can you.
If kids in third grade can handle coding, so can you. Thinkstock

1. Coding
Imagine going through 16-plus years of school without learning the working world's most important language — unconscionable, right? But if you didn't spend your teenage Saturday nights coding on old computers in your garage, you probably can't code. This is becoming more glaringly obvious by the day, but let's just come right out and say it: We all should have learned to code by now.

Americans' failure to code has placed a ceiling over non-technical fields, senior recruiter Ali Greenberg tells The Week. In headhunting for creatives — project managers, designers, art directors, and the like — Greenberg has found that people are missing out on jobs and facing stunted salaries for not knowing how to write in computational languages, especially HTML. If a worker "can contribute to the website then they're more valuable than anyone else in their position," she says.

Greenberg has taken that gaping need for tech literacy to heart and launched coding-for-kids tutoring service Gramercy Learning in New York. But if you're not in third grade, there's still hope: Codeacademy will school you for free, while open platforms like Skillshare can help you learn cheaply.

2. Data literacy
What comes with every company having a web presence? Every company having an analytics presence — and trying to improve what they do from the spools of data their users provide. This has turned data scientists into unicorn nerd royalty.

So what do data scientists — who, by the way, have the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century — actually do? They analyze data collected online for insights that could help solve a problem or give the company a competitive edge. They find the signal within the noise, as Nate Silver would say.

Power lies in data. The data scientists on Obama's 2012 campaign built "intricate mathematical models" of swing states based on a nightly survey of 10,000 people, said Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek. Their models, one of which you can see here, gave an alternative perspective to public polls and helped inform campaign strategy.

Want to get data literate? Take a crash course.

3. Social media savvy
Is the social media editor dead in journalism? BuzzFeed thinks so. Why? Since all reporters are now on Twitter, social media's "dedicated functionaries may be obsolete.” But is this the case for companies as well?

Probably not. People get excited when brands act like publishers — remember the ad world's exultation after Oreo's Super Bowl dunk in the dark? But most brands' employees don't tweet about work the way reporters do. So brands often need someone to do their tweets for them.

Judging by the 181,000 social media marketers/gurus/ninjas on Twitter, a lot of people are doing just that.

4. Empathy
Of course, it's not all about digital savvy. Indeed, what skill unites all of America's fastest-growing jobs, from athletic trainers to nurses to financial planners? As business journalist George Anders recently wrote, it's empathy, the ability to directly relate to others' experiences.

Visit a health club, and you'll see the best personal trainers don't just march their clients through a preset run of exercises. They chat about the stresses and rewards of getting back in shape. They tease, they flatter — maybe they even flirt a little. They connect with their clients in a way that builds people's motivation. Before long, clients keep coming back to the gym because they want to spend time with a friend, and to do something extra to win his or her respect. [George Anders]

Look at the restaurant industry, which accounted for 16 percent of the 175,000 jobs the U.S. added in May. You can't automate empathy, Anders observed, and the more we live in the efficiently soulless world of the internet, the more we cherish unmediated barkeep banter.

Empathy — and the good will it creates — is perhaps the surest way to get ahead.

 
Drake Baer
Drake Baer is an independent journalist living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared on FastCompany.com, the Daily Beast, Paste, Lifehacker, and elsewhere.

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