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Work skills for the future

03 September 2018


Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life - so the saying goes. But how do you do that in a world where work skills seem to be changing?


Whether you are a student deciding what courses to pursue or someone older planning a career change, this article will help you understand that the answer lies in not choosing a job. 


Instead, it’s about equipping yourself with work skills for the future, where rapid change will see us do many different jobs and require a continual learning journey to access them.


Helping Victorians understand the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow’s economy is part of the Digital Innovation Festival (DIF), which aims to foster economic resilience for our state. This article will help you do that, and will show you how to learn more through DIF events too.


An economy poised for major change


Our workforce is continually changing and evolving, and technology has long been a major force behind that.


But the changes expected over the next 20 years are likely to be unprecedented. Why? Because of a combination of forces that are set to bring greater, faster and different workforce transitions than we have seen in the past[1]. These forces include:


  • Rapid technological change driven by faster computers, greater connectivity, increased data collection and artificial intelligence

  • Disruptive business models, such as Uber and Airbnb, that transform industries, removing the need for some jobs and creating others

  • An increasingly global workforce as more people access tertiary education worldwide and online marketplaces enable anyone, anywhere in the world, to work for Australian-based businesses


What to expect


The future is far from clear but there are some emerging trends that are likely to continue, providing the backdrop for jobs of the future.

  1. Larger companies might choose staffing models with a smaller number of staff, supplemented by freelancers

  2. Small businesses are likely to grow, benefiting from technology and greater connectivity which makes it easier for them to build reputations and access larger markets

  3. Automation will continue affecting jobs, typically those with lower pay and/or less formal education

  4. Artificial intelligence could affect many industries, including higher paid ones such as law and medicine, by taking over some tasks and augmenting human involvement in others

  5. Diversity and culture will become increasingly important to successful organisations because of the strong connection they have to innovation and productivity


carsales Chief People Officer Jo Allan knows first hand the importance of this last point. carsales began as a startup and has grown into an ASX top 100 company with more than 1200 employees in Australia and overseas.


“We need to continue innovating to remain relevant,” Jo says. “And to be innovative, we need diversity of thought. Our goal is to be a destination for talent who want to work in a business that is successful not only for its financials but also for its culture.”



Work in service sectors


The end of the mining boom in Australia has coincided with declining job growth in manufacturing and agriculture.


On the other hand, service industries are expected to provide job growth into the future. This includes education, healthcare and aged care, with growth in the last two driven partly by Australia’s ageing population.


The rise of the experience economy - providing millenials with the experiences they value - is likely to cause job growth in services such as customer experience experts, online chaperones, personal trainers and life coaches, and in industries like hospitality and tourism.


The creative economy is also likely to continue growing, with jobs in industries such as marketing and design requiring technical skills to augment what individuals can provide.


Basic digital skills will be essential


Digital literacy will soon be as important as basic numeracy and literacy. It means being familiar with the main technologies needed to live, learn and work in society, such as the internet, social media and mobile devices.


Even for industries where this might not seem important, such as construction, it will be. For example, in the next few years a builder might need to connect the various smart devices within a home.


Being digitally literate doesn’t necessarily mean being up-to-date with all the latest devices, gadgets and programs. It’s more about being able to find information online and adapt to new technologies quickly. This usually comes from being familiar with technology in general, which comes easily to digital natives - people who are growing up using digital technology - while other generations might have to put in more practice.


Focus on the right technical work skills


It’s easy to assume that in a technologically driven future, all technical skills are worthwhile. To some extent this is true because learning one technical skill usually makes it easier to learn another but with the expected rapidity of change, some technical skills could become outdated very quickly.


Nesta in the UK recommends focusing on digital work skills that are used in non-routine tasks, like problem solving and creativity. For example, learning to use software that creates animations or educational programs.[2]


It forecasts that digital skills used for admin purposes, such as payroll or supply chain software, are least likely to grow as these occupations will become automated more easily[3].


Most reports agree that STEMsubjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) will provide strong employability skills in the coming decades. But they will need to be at the more advanced end, such as scientific research, analysis and technology development, to avoid competing with STEM tasks that can be more easily automated.


Other technical skills that are predicted to be in high demand include: 

Big data analysis: There is expected to be a big shortage in analytical expertise needed to make the most of the opportunities that the rise of big data will create[1]


ICT skills in the areas of blockchain, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data science and cloud management[2]


ICT skillsthat combine technical skills with broader business skills, such as IT project managers, business development managers and business analysts[3] 


Entrepreneur and hackathon expert Michelle Mannering says machine learning, deep learning programmingand integrating digital and physical coding will be among the top technical skills needed in the next decade or so. 


Victoria’s Digital Innovation Festival also provides some great opportunities to learn about technical skills and industries too, including the Digital AI Summit and Blockchain APAC event, where Michelle will be MC. 


The trick to developing technical skills, is to start


Not everyone wants to develop robots or program computers. And that’s okay. Entrepreneur Michelle Mannering recommends building technology into something you already enjoy.


“If you’re in marketing, learn the latest digital marketing platforms, some web coding and social media analytics,” Michelle says. “If you’re a photographer, learn how to use the latest photography software. Whatever area you’re in, or want to be in, learn the latest technology in that industry.”


Jo Allan from carsales agrees and adds that for her organisation, it’s more important to have a passion for technology rather than exactly the right technical skill set for a particular role.


“We are always willing to teach and develop our people because technology is so fast moving; certain skills can pivot very quickly.”


Code Like a Girl Co-founder Vanessa Doake says there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building tech skills.


“Do whatever is within your ability and means. Someone who is self-taught can be just as talented as someone who has spent the last three years in a computer science degree,” Vanessa says.


“We also find that people who come along to our events, workshops or coding camps get a new sense of inspiration and determination. Their networks grow and all of a sudden they have access to more opportunities.”


Equip yourself with enterprise work skills


The economic changes that are beginning to unfold as a result of automation, globalisation and more flexible work are making enterprise skills - also known as soft skills - increasingly essential.


Enterprise skills are transferable employability skills that will help you navigate changing careers across industries and professions, ultimately allowing you to keep working in a changing world. They include:


  • Problem solving
  • Financial literacy
  • Digital literacy
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Presentation skills


As entrepreneur Michelle Mannering says, these are the skills that set us apart from others and importantly, from machines.


Jo Allan from carsales says enterprise skills are often more important to her business than technical ones.


“When we look for talent, we are looking for aptitude and attitude. It is the ability to adapt, embrace change and pivot that are the most essential skills,” Jo says.


The Foundation for Young Australians certainly recognises this too. It predicts that jobs of the future will demand these skills 70 per cent more than jobs of the past, and that jobs requiring enterprise skills will pay more too[7].


In Victoria, tertiary students have a unique opportunity to develop work skills for the future through the annual SummerTech Live paid internship. Find out more here 


Commit to lifelong learning


While the future is uncertain, there is no doubt that to remain relevant in the workforce we will need to remain committed to learning to take advantage of the opportunities that rapid change will bring.


This might sound daunting but it doesn’t mean doing a university degree every five years. As the workforce is changing so too is learning, with qualifications like micro-credentials emerging to recognise employability skills at different levels, including enterprise skills, without a prohibitive cost or time involvement.


If you haven’t done so already, consider joining the Digital Innovation Festival’s mailing list to learn about events and information that will help steer your lifelong work skills journey. 


And to get excited about workplaces of the future, read our article about how successful organisations will attract top talent.



Want more info check out the links below:

[1]Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce, CSIRO pg 17-20

[2]Which digital skills do you really need? nesta

[3]Which digital skills do you really need? nesta

[4]Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce, CSIRO pg. 35

[5]ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse, Deloitte Access Economics

[6]ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse, Deloitte Access Economics

[7]The New Basics: Big data reveals the skills young people need for the New Work Order, FYA

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