Right skills needed for the future workforce

May 2, 2018
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This content is produced by The Australian Financial Review in commercial partnership with DeakinCo – by Simon Hann

Australians are constantly bombarded with stories of how the digital economy is changing the workplace and how employers are struggling to find people with the right skills needed for the future workforce. Federal and state governments talk incessantly about STEM learning and how we can ensure we’re creating a smart, innovative and globally competitive nation.

Yet while we are obviously undergoing vast technological change, what if the skills we really need to thrive in the future already exist in our workforces? A study undertaken last year by Deloitte Access Economics titled Soft skills for business success found while formal qualifications and technical skills are important, they’re only part of the requirements for modern employees.

The report commissioned by DeakinCo found “‘Soft skills’ and personal attributes are just as important to success. Indeed 10 of the 16 ‘crucial proficiencies in the 21st century’ identified by the World Economic Forum are non-technical.” In fact, the report found two-thirds of all jobs by 2030 will be soft skill intensive. Already we’re seeing soft skill intensive jobs grow at 2.5 times the rate of non-soft skill jobs.

So, what are some of these soft skills? Put simply, they’re the transferable skills everyone needs in the modern project-based, customer-centric and agile workplace. Skills such as the ability to communicate, to work in a team, problem-solve and have a high-level of digital literacy.

Most people tend to implicitly believe they have these attributes and more often than not they appear on a resume or someone endorses you for them on LinkedIn, but the problem up until recently has been how best to measure them. It hasn’t been an exact science.

With that in mind, DeakinCo have built a model around this emerging trend of micro-credentials. What we did was measure soft skills based on an individual’s capability to demonstrate a particular skill in action. From there, we created a framework in which to measure those skills by mapping those skills against global and industry skills frameworks in Australia as well as consulting with academic and industry experts.

The result is a framework outlining the criteria people need to demonstrate to show they have the necessary soft skills at advanced or master’s degree level, bachelor’s level or workforce entry level.

Once people meet all the criteria, we then issue a micro-credential through Deakin University in the form of a digital badge confirming an individual has a specific skill or capability. Importantly, the framework behind the micro-credential is robust in terms of measurement and in terms of measuring those soft skills.

These types of micro-credentials illustrate what the future of workplace learning might look like. Importantly for employers, it means not having to make wholesale changes to workforces as they can slowly introduce people to their new world of work by introducing incremental change.

For example, in the United States, telecommunications firm AT&T identified its business model was changing and needed to bring its people along for the ride. With over 280,000 employees, the company was not about to try and hire a whole new more technically adept workforce so it decided to completely re-educate it current employees. The initiative known as Workforce 2020 has seen AT&T make an unprecedented effort to re-educate its workforce.

According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, “tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in shareholder value, and the future of one of the most iconic brands in corporate history are at stake. If AT&T succeeds, it will provide a blueprint for how legacy technology companies can compete against younger, digitally native firms such as Google and Amazon.”

They’ve stepped back and looked at what’s needed in the future and offered their workforce an opportunity to skill-up for that future.

Closer to home we are seeing companies like Westpac and organisations such as the Australian Taxation Office do the same. They’re pushing their employees to be the CEOs of their own future and their employees are engaging more with their work as they increase their soft skills base.

It’s about ensuring people acquire the specific skills they need. For most people, it’s not very realistic to go back and completely retrain once life kicks in so what individuals can now do is become more granular with their education and access the skills training they need at a particular time.

The whole face of education is beginning to change. Historically we relied on our schools, universities and employers to tell us what we need. The shift we’re seeing is people are taking responsibility for the skills they need. It’s about lifelong learning – an alternative approach to education in a global customer-centric economy.

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