Given that technology is such a rapidly changing field, what are the skills that today’s kids need in order to future-proof their resume?
It’s a question that has been preoccupying thought leaders such as Simon Rountree, founder of Change Ready. “There is a great focus, and rightly so, on technology but even this has its limitations without people who have the skills to think outside of what technology can do,” he says.
Rountree, who is a recognised expert in change leadership, notes that future workers will need the skills that work side-by-side technology. “We’ll need people who can do the work that technology can’t do, such as; influencing and collaboration, curiosity, imagination, critical and creative thinking, problem solving and analysis,” he explains.
Although skills such as data analysis and interpretation are likely to grow in demand, it will involve a lot more than number crunching. “No longer are we interested in simply collecting data, we need to be able to use it to make informed decisions,” says Louise Watts, co-director and founder of Transition Hub.
Watts notes that without the skills to communicate the story behind the data, it becomes a task that can be managed by automation. “It’s essential to develop clear and critical-thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration skills in children so working with data and wrapping a story around it becomes normal for them,” she adds.
The current COVID-19 Shutdown will inevitably have an impact on the job market, but Gihan Perera, a business futurist and author of The Future of Leadership, predicts that digital literacy, such as online collaboration, innovation in remote teams and presenting online will be crucial.
Perera notes that down the track, COVID-19 could also lead to more job opportunities. “For example, if hybrid teams (some people in the office, some at home) become the norm, we’ll see a bigger investment in virtual collaboration tools, such as Virtual Reality for online meetings.
“If the virus becomes endemic in the community and close physical contact remains risky, we’ll see an increase in robots, drones, and other automation, which in turn will see a rise in tech jobs in those areas,” he explains.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, there are still considerable skills gaps in some fields, notably cybersecurity. In fact, Frost & Sullivan, a business consulting firm involved in market research and analysis, predicts that the growing gap between available qualified cybersecurity professionals and unfulfilled positions will reach 1.8 million by 2022.
It’s an issue that has security professionals concerned with three out of four telling the Center for Strategic and International Studies that there isn’t enough government investment in cybersecurity talent.
Data from SEEK shows that even with the significant disruption of the pandemic there is still demand. “The COVID-19 shutdown has caused a significant reduction in demand for ICT roles across the board. However, in the last couple of weeks there has been a modest lift in demand for roles in security and testing,” says Andy Maxey, senior public relations specialist at SEEK.
So what do we need to start doing differently to both meet the needs of the sector and equip the next generation of workers? Louise Watts believes that the key to success is collaborative learning. “We could see much deeper thinking being done from home, and then back to school for in-person engagement, social and team development and performance based skills,” she says.
“If the workforce is moving in this direction (as I predict will occur, post COVID-19), then why not prepare our young learners to take more responsibility for their own discipline and practice of what they need to be ready for and are most likely looking for in future careers,” Watts adds.
But this type of learning isn’t just a prediction for the future, it’s something that IBM is already championing around the world via their P-TECH scheme. “P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology and it’s IBM’s flagship education initiative,” explains Jade Moffat, Corporate Social Responsibility Lead at IBM A/NZ.
“It started in 2010 in one school in Brooklyn, New York. And since that time, it’s really taken off and it’s now in 24 countries and over 220 schools around the world. It’s been in Australia for about three years,” she continues.
In practice the program is a collaboration between high school, post-secondary education and industry. It’s not just IBM, there are 48 industry partners in Australia including both large technology companies and other organisations who have technology as a focus. Students can work alongside mentors and they’re given work experience opportunities and special IT projects to build the students’ skills.
And it’s not about cherry picking the creme de la creme. “P-TECH is actually specifically aimed at young people that possibly come from more disadvantaged backgrounds. And it’s really about finding hidden gems in it, in a sense. They may have an interest in technology or they may not. And we do that by exposing them to the opportunities that exist in technology and doing that in a really real way,” Moffat explains.
The most recent iteration for IBM, Open P-TECH, has seen them partner with the New South Wales Cyber Security Innovation Node (NSWCSIN) to enable 68 NSW secondary schools currently part of its existing Cyber-STEM workforce program to adopt the tech giant’s Open Pathways in Technology. The partnership has been set up to give students and teachers access to online courses on topics like cybersecurity, cloud computing, and designing thinking.
P-TECH isn’t just an innovative way to upskill future workers for technology roles. It is also a way for young people to develop a portfolio of professional skills including leadership, collaboration and critical thinking. “These skills are constant – they were important 20 years ago and they’ll be important into the future,” says Moffat.
Futurist Gihan Perera notes that these sorts of skills have been downplayed in the past, however it is now recognised that non-technical skills are extremely valuable. “These include the so-called ‘soft skills’, such as communication, emotional intelligence, and a diversity mindset. But the real focus should be on transferable skills, which apply across a range of roles, jobs, and careers,” he says.
Perera notes that in the future, individual skill sets will be more important than ever.
“Jobs will come and go, and many will become obsolete through AI and automation. So don’t expect a job for life, as many Baby Boomers did, and don’t even think you’ll be in the same career.
“Younger employees – particularly Generation Z – will have many careers in their working life, so it’s important they think about the skills they acquire, not just define themselves by their job,” he explains.
Simon Rountree echoes this when he says that in order to future proof their careers, young people should build skills and qualifications that are transferable across many sectors and industries. “A good example of this is having skills in problem solving, design, data analysis, adaptive thinking, digital, technical and communications. Anyone of these skills can be transferable across different sectors such as finance, health, mining, agriculture etc,” he explains.
But perhaps the most important thing for the workers of tomorrow is passion. “Become very aware of your own skills, preferences and passions and what jobs and roles these will translate into,” says Watts.
Originally published on news.com.au