New IDC InfoBrief explores key skills and tools critical to AI success

Two people sitting on a bench looking at a laptop together.
Prepare for the future with IDC’s insights on AI in the workforce. Learn how the balance of human capabilities and AI tools is critical for career success.

Technology is changing how we work, and AI in the workplace is reshaping the skills needed to be successful. With generative AI capturing employers’ attention and rapidly changing job requirements, having the right skills and certifications are key for everyone from new hires to managers. Employers need a skilled, certified workforce to help fuel innovation.

To better understand what skills employers are prioritizing, Microsoft commissioned International Data Corporation (IDC) to interview more than 800 business and IT leaders worldwide. The findings, captured in a newly released IDC InfoBrief, Thriving in an AI-driven Future: Defining Critical Skills and Tools as Jobs Evolve,* highlight a need for not only technical and AI-related skills, but also human skills development. The report explores what skills and tools are most critical to success, targeting roles in IT and line of business (LOB) areas such as marketing, sales, HR, operations, and finance.

Skills development has gone from an anchor experience in higher education to being an ongoing experience as part of the flow of work. Whether starting as a new graduate or an experienced professional leader, the end goal is to adapt and learn the most critical tools for driving productivity, business and organizational success.

Amy Loomis, Ph.D., IDC Research Vice President, Future of Work

Read the IDC InfoBrief Thriving in an AI-driven Future: Defining Critical Skills and Tools as Jobs Evolve to learn about the key skills and tools that are critical to success in the workplace.

Key findings: Build proficiency in productivity tools and human skills

As technologies like AI become more commonplace, it’s increasingly important to build proficiency in productivity tools with generative AI embedded in them, including those that workers are already using.

Bar graph showing the percentage of respondents with top technical skills: Microsoft Office - 50% IT and 66% LOB, Data Management - 35% IT and 39% LOB, Project Management - 34% IT and 35% LOB.

Findings from the IDC InfoBrief, Thriving in an AI-driven Future, show three top technical skills ranked by the percentage of respondents for two groups: IT and LOB. The skills are ranked as follows: Microsoft Office 50% IT, 66% LOB; data management 35% IT, 39% LOB; project management 34% IT, and 35% LOB.

When it comes to the technical skills prioritized by IT and business leaders worldwide, proficiency in Microsoft Office was ranked the most important technical skill for professional success across IT and business leaders—significantly ahead of the next listed skill.

Graphic text: across IT and LOB roles, 65% of respondents say that two of the top three tools and applications to know for work include Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Office.

Two statistics from the IDC InfoBrief, Thriving in an AI-driven Future, about applications to know for work. Sixty-five percent of respondents report Microsoft Teams is a top tool. Sixty-five percent of LOB managers report Microsoft Office is the most important for success for their teams.

In addition, 100% of respondents shared that they use Microsoft Office every day for communication and collaboration, with 65% of LOB managers choosing it as the most important solution for the professional success of their teams.

Microsoft Teams was also identified as critical. When asked about the overall ranking of the top 3 collaboration tools for work purposes, respondents cited Microsoft Teams as the highest ranked collaboration and productivity application for work purposes, with Microsoft Office also being in the top 3.

Infographic showing the percentage of respondents for experienced professionals/managers: 49% problem solving, 45% communication/soft skills, 44% data analysis, 42% organizational skills, and 42% flexibility. For new professionals: 42% flexibility, 41% creative problem solving, 35% creativity, 34% organizational skills, and 34% problem solving.

Two bar graphs from the IDC InfoBrief, Thriving in an AI-driven Future, that list the important human and business skills for experienced professionals and new professionals according to respondents. The skills listed for experienced professionals are problem solving (49%), communication (45%), data analysis (44%), organizational skills (42%), and flexibility (42%). The skills listed for new professionals are flexibility (42%), creative problem solving (41%), creativity (35%), organizational skills (34%), and problem solving (34%).

In addition to having working knowledge of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Teams, experienced professionals and managers indicated that future success in new hires requires human and business skills such as:

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Creativity
  • Data analysis

Our tools continue to be foundational to success in the knowledge economy. As a leading provider of AI technology, these tools with built-in AI functionality will help ensure that students are ready for what is next in the world of work.

Paige Johnson, Vice President, Education and Media Industry Marketing, Microsoft

Certifications matter to employers

Recent LinkedIn data reveals that 20% of U.S. jobs no longer require a 4-year degree, with employers adopting a “skills-first” approach to hiring. This approach emphasizes what a candidate can do and their willingness to learn new skills.

The IDC InfoBrief confirms this trend. Of responding IT and LOB managers:

  • 74% indicate that certifications from technology vendors are important when hiring entry level applicants.
  • 70% note that certifications are as important, if not more, than academic degrees for hiring new professionals.
  • 50% say that vendor certifications offer greater career mobility.
  • 45% agree that certifications lead to more engaging roles and higher pay.

We are excited to see the opportunity industry credentials represent for students entering the workforce to demonstrate their technical skills verified with industry-recognized certifications to stand out in a competitive job market.

Christina Thoresen, Worldwide Education Solutions Strategy Leader, Microsoft

In addition to the value employers find in certifications, the IDC InfoBrief also offers companies and organizations guidance regarding AI and hiring practices:

  • Align around key skills for business and IT.
  • Invest in generative AI technology and training. 
  • Reinforce the importance of key human and business skills. 
  • Consider which vendor certifications are most important.
  • Partner with educational institutions to encourage better skills alignment for graduates.

Explore how Microsoft Credentials support growth and proficiency with role-based certifications to new, scenario-specific applied skills.

Preparing for AI readiness in the workforce

IDC’s findings, as well as Microsoft’s own New Future of Work report, confirm that the need for an AI-ready workforce has already arrived. Today’s graduates are expected to be able to use Microsoft Copilot and other AI technologies as they progress from classroom to career. Skills like critical thinking and analytical judgment, complex problem solving, and creativity and originality are new core competencies—not just for technical roles or AI experts.

Three people working together in an office, looking at a desktop computer.

As AI reshapes work, human-AI collaboration will be the next transformational work pattern—the ability to work iteratively with AI will be a key skill for every employee. We’re already seeing it. Here’s what stands out from our November 2023 Work Trend Index Special Report:

  • 70% of Copilot users said they were more productive, and 68% said it improved the quality of their work.
  • Overall, users were 29% faster in a series of tasks (searching, writing, and summarizing).
  • Users were able to get caught up on a missed meeting nearly 4x faster.
  • 64% of users said Copilot helps them spend less time processing email.
  • 85% of users said Copilot helps them get to a good first draft faster.
  • 75% of users said Copilot “saves me time by finding whatever I need in my files.”
  • 77% of users said once they used Copilot, they didn’t want to give it up.

Get started today with Copilot and explore how to leverage it as an educator. Learn more about Copilot for Microsoft 365, an add-on, to integrate AI assistance into the apps you use every day.

Explore resources for building key skills

Learn more about key skills and tools critical for future success by exploring these additional resources.

*doc #US51794024, March 2024