5 skills employers look for – now and in 2030

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We are well and truly in the age of transformation: technological innovation is no longer surprising – it’s expected. Automation will impact 1 in 5 future jobs, so to equip our students with the skills employers look for, we’ll need to help them become more human.

A report released by JobGetter in 2017, revealed that 65% of job seeking university students felt they hadn’t been sufficiently prepared to succeed in the workplace when undertaking studies.

According to JobGetter director, Fiona Anson, there were 5 million students enrolled in tertiary education in 2015 alone. If you consider that number in light of the report findings, then what are left with? An enormous number of students feeling dissatisfied with the way their degrees are preparing them for work.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, employers are also dissatisfied. Students feel like they aren’t adequately prepared for work, employers know they aren’t. Two main factors come into play here:

  1. Students are less likely to pick up a part-time job while studying.

  2. There is a disconnect between what students are learning at university and the real world.

Aussie students are essentially graduating with academic skills, but little to no skills for employment.


The future of universities.

A new report released by Ernst & Young has called for a drastic overhaul to university degrees, so that they can match employer requirements. According to Ernst & Young Education Leader Catherine Friday, for the first time in a long time the firm has been recruiting students straight out of TAFE because university degrees are simply not giving students the skills they need.

Through conversations with various university leaders, Ernst & Young uncovered that 40% of degrees will soon be obsolete. And if our education system is failing to give today’s students the skills employers look for, then this problem will only be intensified in the future. Unless of course we start making some changes.

Students entering formal education now, will be launching their careers in 2030.

Students entering formal education now, will be launching their careers in 2030. What can we do to ensure universities are supporting all students – current and future?

Skills students will need in 2030 – and how educators can help.

Pearson commissioned a study by Oxford University and Nesta, and its findings address this very issue. The report not only lists occupations that are likely to be in demand by 2030, but the skills too. We found that most of the skills students will need to get a job in 2030 are ‘soft skills’.

These skills are complex, intangible, and uniquely human.

Here, we unpack five of those attributes.

1. Fluency of ideas

Fluency of ideas or lateral thinking refers to a person’s ability to generate a number of ideas quickly. It is one of the cornerstones of creative thinking and problem solving. Fluency is about generating ideas fast and not evaluating them immediately. Something that seems silly at first, can, after further reflection, become the foundation of a truly great idea.

To help students develop this skill, encourage them to write down ideas about subject matter as soon as they come up with them. Ask them to brainstorm several ideas around a topic – but to write fast. And allow them to work in groups – they might find it helpful to bounce ideas off peers.

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2. Active learning

Active learning is also called ‘learning on the job’ or ‘self-directed learning’. And with technology evolving at lightspeed, it’s no surprise that this is something employers want in an employee.

30% of executives consider it to be the characteristic most necessary for an employee to succeed. And STEM employers rate it as the most important employee attribute.

Engaging students with content through active learning at university can help them acquire the skills for self-directed learning in the workplace. It’s ideal that students be given the opportunity to think critically about content, preferably through tasks that help prepare them for the challenges of professional situations. Essentially, students need to be given the chance to do things, and then think about what they are doing.

3. Learning strategies

Learning strategies refer to a student’s or employee’s self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions, which are systematically applied to attainment of their goals. One study found that professional development and workplace learning are positively associated with three learning strategies:

  1. Intrinsic and extrinsic reflection.

  2. Seeking help from others.

  3. Trial and error.

Educators can help students adopt these learning strategies by teaching them about the nature of thinking, metacognition, reflection, and problem solving. Teachers should strive to create a classroom environment in which students feel invited to experiment, use their imaginations, and think freely and productively.

4. Originality

Originality, or creativity, refers to an employee’s capacity to transform knowledge in order to generate new ideas and concepts. As the computational power of machines grows, it’s likely that artificial intelligence will be in charge of the more routine tasks. This means:

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Educators can promote originality and creativity among students by helping them develop the five core attitudes associated with creativity:

  • Self-discipline.

  • Openness to experience.

  • Risk-taking.

  • Tolerance for ambiguity.

  • Group trust.

Teachers can also pose ‘what if’ scenarios and encourage the use of metaphors to explain or understand complex ideas. Importantly, students also need to know it’s OK to fail.

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5. Coordination

Coordination is all about an employee’s capacity to organise their own work. It involves prioritising, switching and refocusing attention, combining and linking activities, following up on tasks, dealing with emergencies, overcoming obstacles and helping put things back on track. A good ‘coordinator’:

  • Is committed to team goals and objectives,

  • Helps put processes in place,

  • Is tolerant enough to listen to others,

  • But strong enough to reject their advice.

Many students need support to help them balance their studies with work and life commitments. Educators can teach students how to assign priority to assignments by prompting them to consider the urgency and importance of a task. They can also:

  • Encourage the use of diaries and planners,

  • Show students how to divide larger projects into smaller blocks,

  • Help them adjust their plan of attack when things go off-track.


Teamwork makes the dream work

While the suggestions in this article have been geared toward educators and support staff, preparing students for the jobs of 2030 is not the responsibility of schools and universities alone. Students should be encouraged to stay aware of the skills and attributes employers seek – and work to acquire them through extracurricular activities, or part-time work as well as through their study.

Ideally, the businesses, corporations and organisations employing university students would have a role to play in shaping the curriculum so that course content matches industry needs.

Our report uncovered several other attributes and skills that will be in demand in 2030 - as well as occupations. You can read about them in more detail here.



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