One of the keys to getting a job in the next century will be flexibility, employers believe. This is the skill many say could determine which candidate is most suitable for the post in a fast-changing working environment increasingly dominated by technology.
In addition to a high level of literacy and numeracy, companies believe being adaptable and prepared to continue learning while at work will be crucial. "As important as the basic competences of reading, writing and mathematics," says Martin Tims, head of Esso's education and environment programmes, "will be knowledge of how to learn and keep oneself up to date.Recruits will have to be prepared to recognise what they don't know and then be able to find the relevant information, knowledge and skills applicable to theworkplace."
Tony Allen, national education manager of Whitbread, the pub and leisure giant, confirms the importance of flexibility. "The ability to adapt to change, to different working environmen ts such as home and office, and to move from job to job will be a part of normal working life. This will also mean that individuals will have to manage their own time effectively, and will call for high levels of personal organisation."
Most companies put strong literacy and numeracy skills at the top of the list of qualities they are looking for in employees. But workers will also need to be strong on technical skills, good at teamwork and decision-making, able to speak a foreign language and overcome cultural differences. The latter two qualities are high on the agendas of British Airways, CIBA, the pharmaceutical group, and Ford, the car manufacturer.
Andrew Day, occupational psychologist at Ford, says: "We need to be a company of multi-cultural employees to understand the needs of our customers overseas. We are working across cultural boundaries and need a greater understanding of cultural and global differences."
The key to this is a workforce that is prepared to learn. "Increasingly, in the future we will be looking for people who have an ability to learn and assimilate new ideas," says Mr Day. "We want employees who are prepared to learn from their mistakes and want to take it upon themselves to develop their technical skills."
Teamwork is a highly valued skill among employers. They want to find candidates who are good teamworkers but are also able to make a decision when working on their own. Hilary Parsons, public affairs manager at Nestl,the confectionary group, says: "Whatever the role in our company, communication and interpersonal skills together with teamworking are essential.
"Nestl gives the highest priority to teamwork and we value the success of the team over that of the individual. We believe that far more can be achieved through a team working towards a common goal than with individuals. "
At Three Valleys Water, Frank Fitzpatrick, the public relations manager, believes employees will need to have a broader outlook in 10 years' time than they do today. "We will want our workforce to have the ability to look at the big picture - that is to have an understanding of company-wide and international issues instead of a narrow focus.
"Today we tend to be more specific-skill focused and there is an inability to understand the overall needs of business and how they interlock."