The Rapidly Shifting World
We anticipate that in the next two decades industrialized countries will have more job openings than workers to fill them, and that robotics and automation will play an increasingly crucial role in closing these gaps.
(Work of the Future 2019 – MIT Task Force)
Throughout history different generations have proclaimed that their era was the best time to be alive, and the 21st century is no exception. A leading public intellect, Steven Pinker, has tested this theory using objective measures and found that the 21st century is in fact a superior time for healthy longevity, equality, peace, scientific and technological progress, wellbeing and prosperity. This list should only continue to grow in the coming years as technology provides new ways of enhancing and harnessing human intelligence to solve the most pressing problems facing humanity.
As technological and scientific progress accelerates, so does the need to identify the opportunities where it can make a difference and negotiate the implementation of tailored solutions. The jobs of the future will thus concentrate on complex problem solving and rely on a combination of technical skills and human skills, such as the ability to gauge needs, build trust, explain how the tech solution will help, and develop a workable plan to implement it. Many jobs will concentrate on improving the collaboration of humans with technology and thus making humans and technology more effective.
Some jobs will help to source and manage information and resources more effectively, such as design and run organisations and cities in more environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and safe ways. Some jobs will be involved in addressing the ethical concerns of the 21st century: inequality, economic exploitation, climate change and environmental damage, and using business for social good. Others will work proactively to prevent disease and slow down and reverse biological ageing for longer, healthy and more productive lifespans.
Consult the following reports for some specific job titles and descriptions based on existing trends:
- 100 Jobs of the Future
- 21 Jobs of the Future: A Guide to Getting and Staying Employed Over the Next 10 Years
As seen with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is already facing significant challenges in the early 21st century. Workers will need to be equipped with problem solving skills, commercial awareness and global acumen, and take note of employment trends in order to maximise opportunities and minimise risk in the labour market. The increasingly uncontrollable and rapidly changing era of the 21st Century is often described in the terms of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Many factors contribute to VUCA, which influences our personal and professional lives directly or indirectly – some of them include:
- Economic crises – global financial crises and pandemics have caused major disruptions to employability and shifted growth areas for employment in response to these events.
- Globalisation – a discernible shift is moving away from global economies and towards regional trade blocks that could lead to new, localised opportunities for advanced technologies, trade, education, manufacturing, as well as research and development.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution – this new era of human development represents a fundamental change to the way we live and work. Technological advances will facilitate the merging of physical, digital and biological worlds, which will allow automation of many processes in order to release humans to focus more on higher order thinking within the workplace (creativity, complex problem solving, critical thinking).
- New ways of working – there is a growing trend towards the emancipation of the ‘employee’ and a shift towards the casualisation of workforces and a gig economy.
- Climate change – it forces new developments in the environment, technology and science, resources extraction, energy creation, capture and distribution, migration and politics.
- Lifespan revolution – the average lifespan in some countries is heading towards 90 years and more. The key challenge is to increase the healthspan (duration of good health), through research into the mechanisms of biological ageing and developing treatments and services to fight the disrepair that comes with it.
Surf the Waves of Change
In order to thrive in this changeable environment we need to keep our eyes peeled on the latest developments, and be more agile and proactive in what we do in response.
The fluid reality outlined in Topic 1 continues to change at an accelerating rate. It requires us to continuously recalibrate – be on the lookout for the new trends and proactively manage our lives and careers. A ‘set-and-forget’ approach, such as learning a trade and living off it for the rest of your life, is no longer viable. The good news is that it is much easier to identify emerging trends and keep on top of rising waves in this age of the internet with government, university, and organisational research and reports online. Sources of information include:
- Australian Labour Market Information Portal
- Australian Government Skills Shortages
- 100 Jobs of the Future
- 7 Ways to Identify and Grow with Industry Trends
- 7 Ways to Stay up to Date with Your Industry
- World Economic Forum
- International Monetary Fund
According to the JCU Graduate Attributes, we acquire higher education to become a more aware and influential citizen (active citizen) in order to shape the environment we work and live in to better serve our individual and collective needs. You have agency to shape trends by taking actions aligned with your values. You can do so by your informed voting choices, your influence (an industry lobby body, industrial unions, becoming an Influencer on LinkedIn or in the media), how you shape the community around you by volunteering, what causes you support by your investment, or shopping/procurement choices. Considering and exercising your choices and taking actions will also lead you to further career-enhancing self-insights.
Agility and resolve
If we constantly have to adapt, where do we find some stability? While your methods (your what and how) may constantly evolve in response to the changing world, your values and your purpose (your why) usually change very slowly. Reflection is important and reminds you of why you are doing something, and will help with your resilience to continue your efforts at times of crisis or doubt. It may also help you realise that your current life and professional activities no longer reflect your values and that it is time for a change. Directions and motivations are discussed in more detail in the You and Your Career module in the JCU Employability Edge program.
Proactive career management
Alongside your understanding of emerging trends and new skills, it also helps to be on the lookout for interesting jobs, emerging professions, and new organisations for future reference. If you keep reviewing and saving them in a folder, you will keep on top of the labour market evolution, including any new skill gaps you may need to address to stay employable. When you are ready for change, go through the KODE cycle process covered in the You and Your Career: Career Choices module, and make transitions based on existing experience and skills that can be deployed in new ways. When you want to action a career change, you don’t always need to start a new undergraduate degree at university. You can address skill gaps through professional short courses, a MOOC, or a post graduate qualification. You can also gain experience in the new field through online activities, such as creating your own website, taking up challenges on community platforms (Kaggle or GitHub), volunteering, or strategically engaging in current workplace projects that allow you to develop those new skills and experience.
We live in an environment filled with conflicting messages – that only specialising in a narrow STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field, or conversely only doing generalist study, will secure you a successful career. However, the reality is that you need both – broad general knowledge allowing you to make novel connections in order to be more effective in your specialised field. In other words, you need to become a T-shaped person. Hybrid jobs are a unique interdisciplinary combination of skills and types of expertise that may give you an employability edge for a period of time. Therefore, following your diverse interests and engaging in a varied range of electives, an interdisciplinary minor, or an ‘exotic’ extra-curricular experience will help you get there.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 1.
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.
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution 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 the 2020s are:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility.
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.
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 associations, JCU 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 5 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. The Foundation for Young Australians has identified job clusters based on skillsets, whereby each job can lead on average to 13 other jobs in the same or related cluster. The Australian Government has also set up an online tool Job Outlook Skills Match to facilitate the identification of jobs based on transferable skills.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 2.
Prepare Now for the Future
Your course of study is designed to nudge you towards developing a diverse, well-rounded set of skills and knowledge. However, there is only so much you can cover in a limited number of hours devoted to a course of study. This means that in order to refine the transferable skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century, you may sometimes need to look outside of your curriculum.
For this reason, it is essential that you create a semester skill development plan in order to steadily acquire all the necessary skills before graduation. This topic will outline the Top Ten 21st Century Skills identified by the World Economic Forum, which should be at the forefront of your skill development plan:
Emotional intelligence is the ability and willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their position, even if you do not agree with them or do not share their values. It is the foundation for respect, effective communication, collaboration, and service.
Plan: Join or start a Student Club, interact with fellow members, and consider taking on a leadership role to practice emotional intelligence. To further develop these skills, become a JCU Student Mentor or JCU Student Ambassador. Involvement helps to practice building rapport, assessing developmental needs, providing tailored guidance – essential skills in serving professional clients and assuming leadership positions within organisations.
People management and collaboration
Based on your emotional intelligence, you can identify people’s strengths and interests and effectively allocate tasks, persuade them to contribute, and see where your own contributions fit in. You want to create an environment where your collaborators feel valued, supported and self-motivated. It is important to be aware of your own natural management style and recognise your collaborator’s work style, and develop your ability to manage a work style that is not naturally matched with your management style in order to make the collaboration effective, satisfying and smooth.
Plan: Apart from your involvement in a Student Club, try to compete in a student competition or challenge. Recruit a small, interdisciplinary team and help deliver a solution to a real life problem. Employers look for creative risk takers and innovators and will be impressed to hear about your project management and teamwork experience. Most of these competitions are scheduled once a year, so the sooner you pencil them in your calendar and start recruiting your teammates, the better.
Service orientation refers to a ‘can do attitude’ and the willingness and ability to go that extra mile in understanding, anticipating, and willingly addressing others’ needs. A service orientation is consistently listed by employers as one of the top five requirements for all jobs and is also a source of personal satisfaction for those who display it.
Plan: Consider a part time or casual job whilst you are studying – check JCU CareerHub for opportunities. Employers highly value part time work as a proof of your ability to act in a professional manner, follow workplace policies (health and safety, non-discrimination/harassment), and display transferable skills, such as customer service, teamwork, analytical skills, reasoning and problem solving, and time management.
Creativity boils down to generating new ideas. Many people tend to associate creativity with fine arts, literature or music. However, most human creativity happens in other areas, and is a condition of novel thinking in complex problem solving, scientific discovery, engineering, product or service development, politics and policy. Creativity starts with the attitude of seeing problems as intellectual challenges to find solutions, rather than something to avoid or complain about.
Plan: To practice this skill, participate in the JCU IT Design Sprint (for IT, Engineering and Science students), partake in student competitions and challenges, keep an eye on the events and programs offered by JCU Connect, or complete an online module on enterprise/creative thinking – see Boost Your Skills module in the JCU Employability Edge program.
Critical thinking and complex problem solving
Critical thinking boils down to your attitude to assess information on its merits, such as understanding varying points of view. It employs analytical skills and is an essential ingredient of any effective negotiation – a conversation aimed at finding a compromise between disagreeing parties. Critical thinking is also necessary to solve complex problems. A complex problem, as opposed to a complicated or difficult problem, requires novel solutions because some problems cannot be solved by following pre-determined steps and can have a variety of outcomes.
Plan: Volunteering, workplace experiences, placements, capstone projects, fieldwork, internships, and vacation programs often provide opportunities to tackle complex problems. Course-relevant experience also enables you to clarify and refine your professional interests, and test your knowledge and ability to apply it in real-life professional situations – see Maximise Course-Relevant Experience module in the JCU Employability Edge program.
Negotiating is a dialogue between at least two people aimed at shifting disagreement into a mutually beneficial outcome, which usually involves compromise on both sides in order to agree on issues of mutual interest. We negotiate in everyday situations, such as agreeing on the mutually satisfactory price of a purchase, household contributions in a relationship, or task allocation in a project. Negotiation is a key task of a number of professions such as brokers, salespeople, diplomats, or lawyers.
Plan: Course group work, student clubs and activities, part time work or mooting competitions are all abound with opportunities to develop negotiating skills in practice.
Judgment and decision making
Critical thinking is necessary to exercise judgment: assess a situation from a variety of points of view, consider possible outcomes depending on various courses of action and reaching the most optimal decision given the circumstances, as well as settling on the course of action most likely to secure the desired outcomes. It often involves negotiating with the stakeholders (other people having stake or interest in the outcome) and ensuring their buy in.
Plan: To develop these skills, engage in workplace experience or volunteer through extracurricular activities. Some volunteer positions are a great way to apply your course knowledge, exercise professional judgment, and learn how to make decisions in collaboration with others. Through the act of volunteering, you can also demonstrate your commitment to specific causes and values.
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch between different modes of thinking at will, and shift attention from one activity to the other (between mental tasks, languages, cultural patterns, beliefs) in order to effectively adapt your thinking from habitual to new situations.
Plan: Consider a short or a semester-long stay overseas as part of your degree. This will help build your global acumen, cross-cultural communication skills and cultural sensitivity; show adaptability and resilience; and develop your ability to think on your feet while dealing with unfamiliar situations and environments. Cognitive flexibility can also be developed through entrepreneurial pursuits, such as student competitions and challenges, seeking new experiences outside of our comfort zone, meeting people from outside of our familiar circle through volunteering, or changing our daily routines – the way we commute or using the non-dominant hand to operate the computer mouse.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 3 and 4.
Magnify Your Value-Add
It is important to reflect on what you are learning/have learnt and consolidate. Reflection is a necessary part of the learning process – it helps you make sense, integrate, and master what you learnt into useable skills.
Records provide scaffolding for your memory to retrieve more detailed and accurate recollections of your experiences and reflections for future internship and job applications. For more information on reflective writing, access this overview from the JCU Learning Centre about how to record personal experiences and opinions.
Tip: Create a file on your computer (or a hard copy notebook) and keep a reflective diary about your experiences – make sure you regularly update it so you don’t forget noteworthy activities.
An ePortfolio is a versatile and free-of-charge way to keep records and share them with employers, and is available indefinitely to all JCU students and alumni. ePortfolios can contain artefacts, such as drafts of your work, reflections, photos, videos, certificates of completion, and more. LinkedIn also offers some portfolio capacity as it allows you to upload media (photos, pdf files and videos) and also hyperlinks to other sites, such as your PebblePad, blogs or website.
It is also important to be able to articulate what you have to offer in order to win employers’ minds. You will need to present how you can be of assistance to employers using stories about your past experiences that highlight relevant skills. It is also helpful for your career planning to be aware of what you have to offer and know how to demonstrate it. The discourse in recruitment is shifting (in some disciplines faster than in others) from merely listing tasks in relation to a job or activity (your input) towards the output – what were your results/outcomes? In other words, many employers want to hear about you as a source of business solutions – what new ideas you implemented by applying your skills and initiative. For further details on articulating your suitability for positions, please refer to the Master Written Applications and Contemporary Recruitment Processes modules in the JCU Employability Edge program.
Blogs and vlogs are also a great way to publicise your experiences. Many study abroad and placement students use this medium, however you always need to consider your online footprint, your privacy obligations with the employer, and the confidentiality of others. You can create a free blog on PebblePad or through one of the many platforms available online.
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