Educating Australia’s next generation: what skills will they need in the future workplace?

10 Feb 2020

The Australian workplace is evolving rapidly due to the changing nature of work itself, changing demographics as more digital natives join the workforce, and due to the changing expectations of Australian workers. Technological advancements are causing rapid workplace shifts and we are moving into an era where hard skills will expire.

It’s vital that the next generation of workers is prepared for the future world of work. The younger generations have the opportunity to leverage instant access to information and knowledge to identify areas of passion and interest that can help to generate the necessary skills of the future. It’s the responsibility of the current generation to provide the space and opportunities for the next generation to explore and experience as much as possible so that they can thrive in a world that requires agility and flexibility like never before.

What are the skills of the future?

While trends are changing at an unprecedented rate, there are some skills that every individual must possess to survive in the future workplace:

  1. Critical thinking
    Being able to think for yourself is a key skill at a time where the concept of career and the workplace is changing. Critical thinking is clearly self-directed and self-disciplined, so individuals will need to be able to think for themselves in a realistic and meaningful way. Developing this ability early on will allow the next generation to strengthen their analytical and problem-solving skills which can benefit them in the future workplace.
  2. Adaptability
    The next generation must become experts at navigating emerging technologies. The rise of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and digital 3D printing has brought new challenges to the workplace. Individuals must be able to adapt to these new applications and this skill will only become more important as the digital age further evolves.
  3. Excellent communication skills
    Technological advancements have increased the speed of communication, which has made it more important for individuals to interpret, comprehend and express information in short timeframes. Therefore, strong communication skills are essential in business. The next generation must learn how to communicate using a plethora of ever-changing new media, thanks to the rise of new technology communication platforms. For example, with most workplaces using tools like Skype or team organisation tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, reading comprehension and writing skills have a renewed importance as crucial skills for the modern workforce.
  4. Cultural understanding
    A deeper cultural understanding can lead to more positive interactions, better collaboration, and truly diverse conversations. The younger generations are becoming increasingly diverse, which means there will be a wider variety of voices and perspectives in the future workplace. Given this, it’s important for cultural awareness to be embraced within organisations to ensure employees are equipped to deal with diversity in the connected world.
    Organisations should also acknowledge the importance of creating an environment where all cultures can work together and have equal input into the business. It shouldn’t be simply a ticked box, but rather a high priority area to enhance the organisation’s ability to foster a tight-knit, diverse team.
  5. Initiative and drive to learn
    Given the fast rate of digitalisation, individuals must demonstrate that they are committed to learning new skills that can improve their level of innovation. Becoming more creative and innovative will let individuals contribute more meaningfully to their workplace on their own initiative and can accelerate their career progression if they possess sought-after expertise.

Ensuring the next generation is future-fit

The future of work is transforming professional development needs from specialised skills training and education degrees to lifelong learning. As the emphasis on hard skills shifts to soft skills, the workforce will need to adapt and grow on the job, which has shifted focus towards continually up-skilling soft skills to adapt to the inevitable changes in the workplace. New and dynamic training approaches that build life and work skills are required.

Education institutions and public sector organisations must expand their training approaches and program offerings beyond specialised occupational training to include more all-encompassing life skills experience and knowledge application. This will present new avenues for the next generation to aspire to and begin preparing for when they enter the workplace.

Likewise, with the rise of disruptive technologies such as AI and blockchain, it’s predicted that more than two million new jobs will be created in sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Therefore, the provision of digitally-focused courses and degrees such as AI, cybersecurity, robotics, and digital forensics must rise to equip the next generation with these vital skills.

It’s also important to nurture the passion and confidence of the next generation. Encouraging members of the next generation to follow their dreams and have confidence in their ability to succeed will push them to create growth in society by making a change in key industries or building new companies. Workplaces can spark this by providing mentors or coaching when new-generation employees enter the workplace to let them feel supported to develop more skills that can be useful in the long-term.

It is a shared responsibility to educate and train these digital natives, with both the education and private sector having a duty to take up the challenge for digital readiness by providing the next generation with the necessary skills early on.

The world now belongs to digital natives, so the employers that invest in providing a skilled workforce not just with the hard skills to do their job but with the career development, applied learning and soft skills experience that contribute to an employee’s greater professional growth, are the ones that will survive and thrive in the future of work.


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