Article originally published: https://medium.com/rmit-forward/unravelling-the-skills-web-a33084bde9f3
Authors: Sally McNamara development partner at FORWARD — The RMIT Centre for Future Skills and Workforce Transformation — writing with director Peter Thomas and development partners Pete Cohen, Jane Howie, Sally McNamara, Inder Singh and Kate Spencer on how to make sense of the skills.
The spider web's intricacy seems simple compared to the web of technical and non-technical competencies, tasks and skills that are now — in the era of post-pandemic skills gaps —in the spotlight for governments and organisations worldwide as economies recover and organisations struggle to up-skill and re-skill at pace.
Everyone has a different opinion on how skills should be defined and categorised — and that's even before we turn to the question of what ‘future skills’ we should focus on to equip economies, companies and people for an unfolding future of work.
Is it possible to bring some clarity to the skills discussion and start to unravel the complexity?
It’s a difficult task.
Even just looking at Australia, we have the National Skills Commission, which categorises ‘future skills’ in terms of core competencies (employability skills, soft skills, foundational skills or transferrable skills); specialist tasks (used in day-to-day work that may be transferrable across occupations and sectors); and technology tools (skills the are needed to use technologies required to be used in an occupation).
On the other hand, My Future spotlights employability skills that they define as “the non-technical skills needed to get a job done” such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, initiative, planning and organising, decision-making, and self-management.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment has a framework incorporating core skills for work development in three categories: navigate the world of work (manage careers and work lives, work with roles and rights and protocols); interact with others (communicate for work, connect and work with others and recognise and utilise diverse perspectives); and get the work done (plan and organise, make decisions, identify and solve problems, create and innovate and work in a digital world). In this framework, there is an acknowledgement that skill performance is always context-dependent: for instance, an individual may have highly developed decision-making skills but not be given the autonomy to enact decisions.
Finally, we have the many models posed by consultancies and by future of work research groups, including McKinsey’s 56 foundational skills — cognitive, interpersonal, self-leadership and digital; and the The World Economic Forum’s Skills Taxonomy that has categories including skills and knowledge, attitudes and abilities.
This is just a selection. There are many more.
But leaving aside the very different and seemingly often inconsistent classifications (frankly, it reminds me of a brand refresh, where we may never reach complete agreement), perhaps we should start to unravel the skills web by looking elsewhere, looking at the trends that are likely to impact the future of work most and seeing skills through that lens.
As highlighted in many reports, automation (along with digitalisation) is perhaps the key trend. Automation looks set to wipe out many routine, repetitive tasks from Australian occupations — some research predicts as much as 58% of these tasks will be automated by 2030.
But another effect of automation is that the number of human-centric roles will increase. The tendency is to think that once automation has happened, everything will move on as before but with some rebalancing of workforces. However, those human-centric, non-routine jobs most resilient in the face of change, many of which might require cross-domain knowledge, will not simply stay the same. They will also change — not just once, but continually.
Perhaps then, we should focus on how we build uniquely human skills — resilience, empathy or adaptability, to name a few — that will enable us to up-skill and re-skill on demand. We’ll need a fair dose of courage — and some new skills — to withstand the discomfort of learning new things and to overcome the awkwardness of plunging into new areas of knowledge.
It’s becoming apparent that we can no longer expect a single qualification to carry us through our working lives — technology and many other things around work is changing too rapidly. We need to see ourselves more seriously as lifelong learners.
The challenge here is one of motivation and engagement. Learning is hard — it requires effort, focus and dedication. It also requires a particular mindset, one perhaps best summed up in Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset. In contrast to a fixed mindset — where intelligence is seen as static and can lead to a desire to defend and protect current knowledge — a growth mindset implies that competence can be developed, which stimulates a desire to learn new things.
Maybe the way to begin to untangle the web of skills — and make sense of the various categorisations of ‘skills ‘— is not to try and reconcile them, or rework them, or build more delicate categorisations but to focus instead on our abilities to manage ourselves in an era of change and disruption.
It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
Contact the Workforce Development team to learn more about our services and partnership opportunities.
Acknowledgement of Country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.
Acknowledgement of Country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.