Skills: 21st Century Currency

In the age of a labour market permeated with highly educated candidates, employers are shifting their interest from your university knowledge to your skills. They want to know what difference you can make to their organisation by applying your knowledge in skilful, adaptive and creative ways.

Human skills

As the future unfolds, many routine tasks that require little cognitive input (data entry), sifting through large amounts of information (legal research), formulaic writing (sports, weather or financial reporting in the media), or pattern recognition (identifying diseases in medical images) will be performed more accurately, cheaper and faster by algorithms.  This means humans can now concentrate on the tasks that they excel at: recognising emotions and responding to them appropriately, communicating in an empathetic manner, creating new ideas and novel idea associations, and complex problem solving.  This is why the World Economic Forum posits that the Top 10 Skills for 2023 are:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Creativity, originality, and initiative
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Technology use, monitoring, and control
  • Technology design and programming
  • Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  • Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation

All of these skills are uniquely performed by humans and can be developed through your studies and extra-curricular activities.  These individual skills will be discussed in more detail in the next topic: Prepare Now for the Future.

Growth mindset and lifelong learning

An optimistic belief that our abilities are dynamic and can be grown through new challenges and effort is an essential conviction in order to thrive in the 21st century. It is called a growth mindset and is in contrast to a ‘fatalistic mindset’ that proposes we inherit a static set of capabilities at birth that only shrink over time. The latest research in neuroplasticity challenges this persisting fatalistic belief. We usually hold a mix of both mindsets and the good news is that a growth mindset orientation can be developed. Lifelong learning is a natural consequence of the growth mindset and reinforces it. It implies openness to learning new knowledge and skills, reinventing yourself, and updating your professional identity throughout life. One of the enduring benefits of your degree is learning how to learn independently, so you can use this know-how for the rest of your working life and beyond.

Skills evolution

It is important to keep an eye on skill shortages, skills in demand, and emerging skills.  The shelf life of many technical skills is no more than five years, so it is imperative to always scan the environment for new developments.  Great sources of information about skills include MOOCs and university short courses, LinkedIn professional interest groups, professional associationsJCU Career Snapshots, skill-specific boot camps, and learning communities, such as Kaggle or GitHub.

Non-linear careers, agility and resilience

What we have discussed so far implies a new set of expectations in relation to one’s career. An individual starting a career in 2020 can expect an average of five careers spanning 17 different jobs in their lifetime. Accelerating change means that whole industries can disappear (car manufacturing) or boom (space industry) in Australia, which may require a ‘sideways’ career movement. For example, some of the mechanical or electrical engineers from the car industry may apply their skills in the space or defence industry. This may disrupt their career progression for a period while they learn the ropes of the new industry, but will ultimately allow them to develop a new career path. Keeping a focus on your values and purpose, affirming your progress and successes, and dissecting failures to find ways to improve and swiftly moving on will help you be agile, resilient and motivated, which are also highly desirable employability traits.

Job currency of the future

Skill sets will become the job currency of the future, rather than job/occupation titles. Some professional identities, particularly those associated with vocational degrees, may be more distinct and deeply entrenched in our personal identity than others. However, all professions and degrees can be broken down into skill sets. In order to be agile and adaptable, we should look at ourselves as a transferable skill set, rather than a job or degree label. Skills are our tools used to complete tasks, and just like a hammer and screwdriver they can be deployed in a range of activities.

Studyworkgrow have built on research from the Foundation for Young Australians to define six Career Clusters that group people based on their key tasks, core technical and transferable skills, and common outcomes. You’ll find people from each cluster within each industry. It’s a different way of thinking about jobs, and with the Career Clusters it’s easier to look beyond the most popular jobs in each industry, and understand the diversity of jobs on offer.

Use the transferable skills checklist as a way to identify your transferable skills in order to highlight possible careers.

Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 2

Additional Resources