Magic Skills

With Nicky Jones / 1 October 2019

banner The Way We Work Series 2019 small

Nicky Jones, a Future of Work specialist at MartinJenkins, looks at the skills that the future workforce will need as we move through the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond.

This is a slightly edited version of an article first published by ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) on on 14 August.

In the first instalment in our ‘The Way We Work’ series I noted some of the more ground-shaking predictions about the Future of Work and discussed a number of real-life barriers that mean that those predictions are best filed under ‘possible’, rather than ‘probable’.

Those barriers were among the key findings from research that we at MartinJenkins completed for ATEED earlier this year. But the real focus of that research was learning more about the skills New Zealanders would need to successfully survive the big shifts ahead.

The good news is the skills that employers told us they wanted were common across industries, organisations and roles. More good news is that none of the skills are technical — anyone has the potential to develop them regardless of education or experience. In short, they’re the skills that enable us to change, meaning they will continue to be important into the future as the world around us continues to change.

So, what are these magic skills that New Zealand employers pointed to?

Growth mindsets

Well, they’re the same as the ones that have already been well-documented worldwide — like having a growth mindset and being open to new experiences. In the future, as the speed of change increases, we will be judged less by what we know, and more by our ability to learn.

Employers also talked about skills and attributes such as curiosity and creativity, and the ability to use these to solve new and different problems. As the environment in which we are operating changes, the solutions to our previous problems won’t necessarily be relevant, and we’ll need to look for new and different ways in which to tackle complex new problems.

There’s a quote attributed to Einstein from many years ago: ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ It’s no different today — the need to extend our thinking or consciousness as a framework for solving complex problems continues.

samuel zeller rk Zz3b7G2Y unsplash small

Image source: Unsplash

Uniquely human

The second set of skills employers highlighted are those that will set us apart from technology — our uniquely human skills such as our ability to collaborate and show empathy. With diversity in our workplaces increasing, our ability to work with people with different experiences and ideas will be paramount to getting work done. As work becomes more ‘agile’, cross-disciplinary teams will become the norm. Working effectively with others will also be particularly important as with the new ways of working there will be less time available for teams to ‘storm’ and ‘norm’ in order to perform.

One employer also talked about the importance of empathy in keeping his team safe. In the context of automated forklifts, shelf stackers and other new technology being introduced into the business’s distribution centre, the connection the staff felt for each other was important in them looking out for each other’s safety. The employer also noted that permanent team members who worked with their colleagues regularly were more committed to team safety than the temporary or casual workers.

‘Grit’ and resilience to change

The third bucket of skills that New Zealand employers wanted related to employees’ resilience to change — or, as Angela Duckworth calls it, ‘grit’. As my colleague Kevin Jenkins talked about in his blog Grit or quit?, when things are changing at pace, and not always going as expected, the ability to bounce back from disappointment and keep going can set people apart.

This is one of those areas where life experiences can teach us more than any course can. It’s through life getting tough that we develop grit.

How to thrive in the 4th industrial revolution

Reassuringly, these three skillsets are very similar to those identified by the World Economic Forum in their 2016 report The Future of Jobs, which looks at the skills needed as the world moves through and beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution of AI, nanotech, 3D printing and the like. You’d expect that to be the case, as there’s no reason to think New Zealand would be any different from anywhere else in the world.

On the other hand, the employers we spoke to did report one other skillset they were looking for that I haven’t seen discussed in the international research — namely, basic employability skills, or what you might call a ‘work ethic’. Employers talked about the need for their people to turn up to work regularly, on time and drug-free, and to be open to learning and to asking questions.

At the same time as many employers were saying it was hard to find candidates with the ‘right’ attitude, many young people have also been saying that applying for roles and working in a new environment was like entering a foreign country, where they didn’t speak the language or understand the culture.

blank card cardboard 697059 small

Image source: Pexels

Who teaches work culture?

After spending 20-plus years in working environments and coming from a family where both Mum and Dad worked, I thought this work culture stuff was just common sense. But as they say, common sense is not always common. So rather than relying on people just picking this up through osmosis, maybe we need to be more deliberate and proactive in how we prepare our communities for working success.

But how to do it? Is it something that should be taught in school? Or can employers do more to induct people into their company’s culture, rather than just into specific roles? As part of the research we meet with a number of secondary and tertiary education providers and while some providers talked about preparing students for work, this did not seem to be systematic or a set part of the curriculum.

Truth be told I think there’s a shared responsibility here. Families and communities are important in shaping who we are, but not everyone has a family or community that understands what’s needed. Schools are there to set us up for future success, but they too don’t always know what’s needed in industry or corporate environments. And while employers are the ones who ultimately benefit most from employees being prepared in advance for success, they don’t always have the time or resources to invest in the development needed.

So perhaps it should be a joint project — a case of industry (which has the knowledge) working with schools (who have the time, resources and educational expertise), backed by the support of families and the communities. Joint work to fill this development gap could potentially have a major impact on our future wellbeing.

What part will you play? And what are you doing in your organisation to ensure you are planning for the future you want to be a part of?


About the author

Nicky Jones is an organisational development professional with expertise in the Future of Work. She is passionate about supporting organisations to meet future demand by ensuring all of their people practices support their strategic priorities. In particular she has immense experience in strategic alignment, strategic workforce planning and talent management.

Nicky Jones

Related Services

Related Industries