Will hard or soft skills be the ticket to future jobs?

As the world moves into the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by a fusion of technologies, the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres are being blurred. Compared with previous industrial revolutions, this one is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace, and disrupting almost every industry.

In this new world, leadership and business optimisation is more about steering interconnectivity between machines and people; across companies, countries and value networks.

So what skills will people need? In 2020, 90 per cent of jobs will require digital skills[1], and foundation skills will need to comprise analytics, applications, network management, security and privacy.

A 2016 OECD report, Skills Matter, focussed on the necessity for adults to have a capacity to manage information and solve problems using computers as ICT applications permeate the workplace, education systems, the home and social interaction. It found, unsurprisingly, that adults with higher proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments tend to have better outcomes in the labour market. Workers who use information processing skills more intensively in their jobs tend to earn higher wages.

However, it is not only cognitive skills that are ramping up. While the essential skills of the future are undoubtedly those dominated by STEM, advanced social skills will be just as important in the new order. Working will involve high-order critical thinking and analytical skills – a higher level of employability or ‘soft skills’. A broader concept of teamwork will have workers needing to work in business in real and virtual ways – and with artificial beings – across the globe.[2]

Ai Group’s Workforce Development Needs Survey last year found employers’ most important recruiting factors are a candidate’s fit to the business culture and relevant work experience. They expressed some dissatisfaction with the problem solving and organisation skills of all cohorts once recruited.

After capable workers are recruited, companies need to implement high-performing workplace practices such as team work, autonomy, task direction, mentoring, job rotation and the application of new learning. These can play a hand in continuing the use of both cognitive and social skills by workers, thereby creating a more productive workforce.

Are the skills requirements in your business changing, or do you think they’re about to change? Share you ideas and experiences and start a  conversation by leaving a comment below.

Are you looking to develop your leaders in 2017? Ai Group offers an extensive range of Leadership growth programs – To find out more head to our website: www.aigroup.com.au/workforce-development/

[1] European Commission, 2016

[2] John Lydon, David Dyer, Chris Bradley, McKinseys, Compete to Prosper: Improving Australia’s Global Competitiveness, 2014

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Anne joined Ai Group as an economist and is currently our General Manager, Education and Training. She is responsible for policy development and major projects addressing members’ education and training issues. Anne previously managed Ai Group's national team of Enterprise Connect Business Advisers charged with helping SMEs to improve productivity. Holding a Master of Education (Educational Leadership and Management) and a Bachelor of Economics, Anne worked for over 25 years in the VET sector in policy, research, training and quality management roles before joining Ai Group. She is a Board member of Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA).

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