Futureproof your career: the skills you will need in 2020

22 Sep 2016

From driverless trucks to automated stock market trades, robots are making more and more humans obsolete in the workforce. A report by the World Economic Forum estimates that between now and 2020, around five million jobs will be lost to robotics, artificial intelligence and automation in the 15 economies it studied including Australia and South-East Asia.

However technology is not the only source of disruption. As people live longer, the number of older people in the workforce will increase significantly while globalisation and the rapid growth of emerging economies such as China, India and the ASEAN will create greater competition from a new class of skilled professionals.

Experts disagree about the extent to which these factors will destroy or create jobs, but one thing is for sure – the changing business environment will demand a different skillset from workers.

Libby Marshall, Associate Director of UQ Business School’s MBA program says: “There will be greater emphasis on the things robots cannot do – such as critical thinking and analysis, and on softer skills such as the ability to collaborate with diverse groups and adapt to change. Candidates will be expected to have a broader knowledge along with new media and data skills. Lifelong learning will be critical to career development.

“Professionals need to identify the skills they will need and start developing them now, while employers should start building capability within their workforce or they may find themselves with a talent shortage in a few years’ time.”

So what skills will be in demand in the years ahead? The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has identified 10 key competencies:

1. Critical thinking
While computers can easily beat humans in terms of their data crunching ability, they are unable to make sense of a situation and lack the deeper insights that inform human decision making. As machines become smarter and take over more routine tasks, these ‘sense making’ skills will become increasingly valuable.

2. Social and emotional intelligence
Another skill lacking in robots is the ability to understand feelings – unlike people who can quickly detect the emotions of those around them and adapt their behaviour. Humans easily establish connections with others and build relationships. Social and emotional intelligence has always been a valuable asset and it will become more so as we are required to interact with a wider global audience.

3. Adaptive thinking
The jobs most at risk from automation are the middle-income roles. Opportunities are polarising, with very highly skilled roles at one end and manual tasks at the other. What both these have in common is the need to adapt to different situations, deal with the unexpected and use novel thinking to find solutions to problems that arise.

4. Cross-cultural skills
The ability to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds will be increasingly important – and not just because of globalisation. With research having shown that diversity improves decision making and stimulates innovation, employers will try to ensure that teams include a wide range of ages, skills and perspectives. We are likely to find ourselves working with a broader mix of people and must find ways to overcome the differences and collaborate effectively.

5. Data literacy
With massive amounts of data at our disposal, business decisions will increasingly be based on objective evidence and there will be greater use of simulations to assess the different options. Managers will require ‘computational thinking’ to make sense of the data and should also be able to understand the basis on which it has been compiled and assess the quality. Skills such as statistical analysis and quantitative reasoning will enhance your CV.

6. New media literacy
Widespread use of new media in the workplace will open up a range of new communication tools. Workers will need to be able to assess information in different formats such as video, graphics and podcasts and use them effectively in their own presentations and reports.

7. Multi-disciplinary knowledge
Many of the emerging areas in science, and major challenges such as climate change, require input from different disciplines. Therefore while the 20th century was the age of the specialist, in the 21st century professionals will be expected to have a broader knowledge. This will give rise to the ‘T-shaped worker’ – someone with in-depth knowledge in their own discipline and the ability to ‘speak the language’ of others.

8. Design mindset
Technology and advances in knowledge will give us greater scope to design the working environment and processes to achieve optimum outcomes. Neuroscience has shown how different environments affect mood and mental processes. Managers must learn to understand the kind of thinking that different tasks require, and plan projects in such a way as to achieve the desired result.

9. Managing overload
Bombarded by so many different items of information in different formats, workers will need to find ways to deal with the overload. The ability to filter information and focus on what is important will be critical. They will also need to organise data in the most effective way – perhaps by the use of new tools such as metadata and tagging.

10. Virtual collaboration
Working in virtual teams requires different skills than in an office-based environment. Leaders need to find ways to manage and motivate the group, while team members must learn to collaborate with distant colleagues, and overcome the isolation that can come from remote working. The solution may lie in virtual co-working spaces or social media tools which allow us to interact at a virtual water cooler.

Libby Marshall says professionals should try to establish a supportive learning environment in which to develop these new skills. “It is worth noting that these new competencies are not learned skills but practised skills,” she says.

“While reading will help you to understand the concepts, to achieve proficiency you will need to put them into practice. Starting now will give you plenty of time to prepare your CV for 2020.”

For advice and help, contact the Student Employability Team careers@bel.uq.edu.au, alternatively if you are an MBA student or graduate please contact the MBA Career Resource Team MBA mbacareers@business.uq.edu.au.