How to future-proof your career

3 Minute Read | Author: Hannah Tattersall

What can’t the robots do? In a word (or two): soft skills.

Remember when 2020 sounded like a dystopic universe somewhere in the distant future? Well, now it’s less than three years away. And unsurprisingly, it has everyone worried about jobs. After all, there’s a high probability 40 per cent of Australia’s workforce could be replaced by automation within the next 10 to 20 years.

Stephen Martin, the chief executive of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), tapped into the country’s collective fear when he wrote in a report on Australia’s future workforce published last year that “our labour market will be fundamentally reshaped by the scope and breadth of technological change, and if we do not embrace economic reform and focus on incentivising innovation, we will simply be left behind in an increasingly competitive global marketplace”.

But while many people think brushing up on technical skills is the way to counter this impending attack of the robots, experts say the opposite may actually be true. To future-proof careers, today's young people need to develop their problem solving skills, social interactions and ability to adapt to a changing workforce – things a robot simply isn’t capable of.

Andrew Groth from Infosys, a technology services and consulting company that helps companies create and execute digital strategies, says the pace of change with new technology is just too fast to learn everything anymore. “You can do an online course or go to uni and learn a technical skill set, but it’s probably going to be out of date in a few years’ time,” he says.


What to choose at uni

Groth says that’s where the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects taught in high school are imperative.

“Over the last decade the number of students going into IT training has dropped by about 50 per cent. While science enrolments have gone up, after the first year there’s a huge drop out in chemistry, physics and maths. That’s why STEM subjects are so important. They are the foundation of technology and the kind of thinking that’s needed to apply technology comes from those STEM subjects.”

John Shields, Deputy Dean of Education at the University of Sydney Business School says millennials do not want a standard uni degree any more; they want the ability to identify and solve problems. "The underlying capabilities that are really now at front-of-mind for us are not the technical knowledge,” he explains.


More to soft skills than networking

“Of course a student who’s doing accounting needs to know what a balance sheet is, how you read one and how you construct one. They also need to know about problem identification, solution-finding and thinking critically about the evidentiary base they are working with.”

Shields says agility is important: the workforce of the future will comprise employees who know how to “re-skill, un-skill, unlearn, and relearn technical knowledge.

“They’ve got to be agile in terms of technical know-how, because the cutting-edge knowledge at the moment is likely to be pretty much passé in five [years], certainly within a decade’s time.”

The professions considered future-proofed by recruitment firm Hays are those in which a social or personal element is evident. That includes architecture and interior design; financial planning; healthcare and mental health; insurance; commercial law; marketing and communication; and sales.

“Take every opportunity to improve your soft skills,” Hays offers. “With automation and artificial intelligence replacing or taking over manual and repetitive tasks, this will leave employees free to focus on the non-routine and more advanced aspects of their job.

“Crucially, when we look at the skills which automation is taking over, they are usually hard or technical skills. Soft skills are a lot more difficult to automate or outsource. So it is soft skills that will add to your value in the years ahead. This includes communication, teamwork, adaptability, creative thinking and relationship-building skills.”