What digital skills do you really need for a futureproof career?

The next wave of technologies is here, so there's no time like the present to build the skills to harness them.

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Students are often told they are preparing for jobs that may not exist today, such is the rapid emergence of technology. Yet the seeds of tomorrow’s in-demand skills have already been planted revealing just what employers will be crying out for in the future.

Research shows more businesses are now on board with technologies than ever before, with most recognising how essential it is for economic success. 

However, some have barely scratched the surface of their customer’s needs, let alone what their customers will demand in the future. If businesses want to grow, they must invest in new digital tools and staff who know how to harness them.

Digitally savvy businesses outshine others

Research shows more businesses are now on board with technologies than ever before, with most recognising how essential it is for economic success. Today 95 per cent of Australian businesses have internet access, and the value of orders placed online in 2015–16 was estimated at $320 billion.

However, some have barely scratched the surface of their customer’s needs, let alone what their customers will demand in the future. If businesses want to grow, they must invest in new digital tools and staff who know how to harness them.

Research by Deloitte shows many businesses, particularly small businesses, are at risk of falling behind, with 58 per cent not currently using any exponential technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, drones, blockchain or autonomous vehicles.

Surprisingly, two in five surveyed businesses do not expect to have taken up any of these technologies in five years’ time. Statistics show this is short-sighted, with digitally advanced businesses performing better on a range of financial metrics.

Digital know-how to secure your future

Savvy businesses with an eye on the future will invest in graduates with a range of digital literacies and knowledge of futuristic technologies. What these are exactly are still to be confirmed, but RMIT researchers at the forefront of technology-driven innovation point to the following as a starting point.

  • Blockchain: a technology that has the potential to change economic and regulatory frameworks, but there is a lack of specialists who really know how it works, making it one of the hottest areas for technology recruitment. RMIT is helping to bridge the skills gap with a new blockchain course – find out more.
  • Automation: predicted to replace up to 5 million Australian jobs by 2030 (CEDA report, 2016), which some bemoan as the end to an era and others hail as ushering in a more efficient workforce (read more about automation, robots and the future of work). 
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): has the power to enhance businesses through everything from predictive customer service to voice-activated technology.
  • Soft skills: futuristic technology may wipe out many jobs of today, but skills such as adaptability, leadership and communication will be critical.
     

Hard skills are a focus for many graduates, but Victor Gekara, RMIT Associate Professor and senior lecturer of International Trade and Logistics, says soft skills are equally important.

“Considering the changing technologies of work and the changes to customer demands and preferences, the skills that are becoming increasingly important are soft, transferable and managerial,” he said.

“So graduates, in addition to the hard, specific occupational skills, will need to be great at communication, digital skills and keeping a positive attitude, teamwork and team management, negotiation and persuasion, and self-directed and continuous learning.”

It's for everyone; not just the tech-minded

Dr Chris Berg, RMIT research fellow, says these skills will be in demand across all fields, not just information technology roles.

“No matter what field you're entering, whether you're working in medicine or engineering, or computer science, or the law, these technologies, or some combination of them, are going to dramatically change the industry that we're entering,” he said.

“We don't know exactly how these are going to change and we don't know exactly how those industries are going to change, but we know that they're going to change quite radically.”

It’s not critical to master these skills at tertiary level, but, Berg says that it’s a good idea to know the basics.

“I think it's important that students learn them at university or they learn them before,” he said.

“It's really important that they know what world they're coming into because it's a world that they're not going to be taught about through prior experience.

“I think that most graduates landing a first job are not going to be asked to restructure a business, but they will be entering a market that is rapidly changing.

“So they need to be able to navigate those worlds, not to lead them necessarily, in the first couple of years of their employment.”

In the future, digital technology will loom larger in business operations than it does today. By 2020, digital technologies will contribute $139 billion to the Australian economy.

 Story: Kate Jones

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