What are the skills employers are looking for and what should young people do to enter the workforce faster

“How should young individuals prepare themselves to adapt and be more resilient in a workforce where change is the constant?” Senior representatives from Jobs for NSW, Telstra, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Strategy, Buckham and Duffy Consultants, Foundation for Young Australians and JobGetter together addressed this question in the ‘Future of Jobs’ panel at the 2018 CeBIT Conference in Sydney.

Retraining employees to keep up with demand in tech jobs

According to the ‘Future of Work and Skills’ report released by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the increase in job opportunities will only be relevant to the workforce if employees change their skillset to adapt with digital change. The ‘Future of Jobs’ panellists spoke about how Australia would need 25,000 software engineers in the next five years. As Australia is nowhere close to producing 25,000 software engineers, employers should start looking at the option of retraining or developing current employees.

Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President at UTS added that education and training should be a lifelong process instead of terminating at the end of high school or university. Employers and educational institutions actually have a big part to play by retraining their employees in order to keep up with technology advances. Professor Attila Brungs further stated that workers of the future will spend 30% of their time involved in a retraining program as they are expected to be constantly retrained in different contexts throughout their career.

With 300,000 of people globally working in AI, some employers have already put retraining programs into motion as cybersecurity and data analytics sectors are changing the skillset required and the way we work.

What are employers looking for today?

The panellists all agreed that the gap between government, enterprises and academia needs to be bridged in order to effectively respond to changes in the industry. An example is changing the curriculum at university at a faster pace so students can learn about current practices. According to the University of the Future report produced by Big 4 firm EY, “some university leaders estimate that around 40% of existing degrees will soon be obsolete” and also that “some institutions have yet to digitise their operating models.”

Employers today are looking for people who are both creative and technical; i.e. bringing fresh new ideas to the firm while having the ability to get things done. Dr Jan Owen, CEO at Foundation for Young Australians stated that there should no longer be this separation between the creative and the technical as this slows down progress. What employers need today are people who are trained to do both so they are able to undertake projects from start to finish. According to Dr Owen, jobs of the future would come down to personal leadership whilst creativity and technicality should not be managed separately as this is not conducive for progress. However for this to happen effectively, the upfront engagement from a student entering the workforce needs to take place earlier and not post-graduation.

Employers have shifted to employees with softer skills

Fiona Anson, Co-Founder and CEO at JobGetter, stated that part of her research involved asking for employers’ opinions and looking at 4.6 million job adverts across a three year period in Australia to see what has changed. JobGetter’s research findings have shown that employers have shifted towards soft skills when looking for potential employees. Employers have realised that soft skills are much more needed to help employees adjust and navigate through their careers. JobGetter discovered that there was a 212% increase in employers asking for graduates who could demonstrate digital skills. JobGetter’s report findings also showed a 160% increase of employers who look for employees with high levels of critical thinking.

If young entrants to the labour market could demonstrate the 10 top skills including innovation, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, digital skills, cultural intelligence and communications, they could be paid $9000 more than average just on entry” stated Anson.

How the education system and enterprises can better prepare graduates together

According to the panellists, the whole education system need to change to be able to prepare graduates with both soft and hard skills. Universities and TAFE would have to be more involved with the industry they are in and likewise, companies should be more involved in the training process. Today, big businesses are hiring less fresh graduates while small to medium sized (SME) businesses are hiring experienced graduates due to lack of time and funds. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016 data showed 99.5% of business employers are SMEs with under 200 employees so this clearly demonstrates the need for graduates with relevant work experience. The challenge is to encourage SMEs to employ fresh graduates yet remain productive and competitive. One of the ways to resolve this issue is for universities to partner with organisations from the industry and prepare tailor-made projects that can assist SME in finding their potential employees whilst providing students with work experience.The panellists all shared that a graduate who has completed an internship is four times more likely to enter the workforce faster.

It is therefore highly recommended for all students to have an internship prior to the completion of their studies. The 2017 Graduate Outcomes Survey showed that 71.8% of undergraduates had managed to find full-time jobs four months after finishing their university degrees – a slight increase from 70.9% the year before.

Jordan Duffy, Co-Founder & Director of Strategy at Buckham and Duffy Consultants shared that core subjects such as mathematics, sciences and creativity should not be separated. Instead, cross-disciplinary subjects should come together and be taught to students. This follows research findings show that this would better prepare graduates to collaborate in multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural teams to solve complex problems, using significant amounts of information and data.

What is currently being done?

One of the new models that PwC has helped to bring to Australia from the UK involves hiring apprenticeships that do not belong to traditional trades. This apprenticeship program is the first in Australia that will take students straight from school into ICT, financial services and nursing industries to enable them to learn on the job. It is expected that 20,000 apprenticeships will be put into place over the next couple of years in Australia.

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