Susan Just shares her thoughts on the latest research around the digital future for our girls

In her articles to our School community over the past couple of weeks, Principal Susan Just has touched on what technology means for our students, and what ‘soft’ skills and dispositions they will need to succeed in such a rapidly changing workplace. This latest article shares her insights on recent research and the future of work for our girls.

'As basic automation and machine learning move toward becoming commodities, uniquely human skills will become more valuable.' Devin Fidler

During the recent holiday period, I read a report developed by Swinburne University's Future of Work Centre. The report, ‘Peak Human Potential: Preparing Australia’s Workforce for the Digital Future’, provided important insights into work of the future and the skills and dispositions that will be required by our girls and their peers.

The report acknowledges that we are experiencing change at an accelerating pace because of the continued development of digital technologies. Vast digital ecosystems are constantly evolving and people are becoming increasingly more interdependent because of digital hyper-connectivity. Work is also transforming from being predictable, linear and siloed to being networked, collaborative, cross-functional and continuously changing.

The 2019 McKinsey Report predicted that automation technologies such as advanced robotics, machine learning and AI would impact work in Australia. While there would be demand for workers in unpredictable and interactive roles such as nursing, care-giving and sales, there would be less work for radiographers, mechanics and legal research assistants. By 2030 most workers will spend at least 60% more time using technological skills than they currently do and more than 40% more time using social and emotional skills.

The McKinsey Report ties quite well with the World Economic Forum paper on the Fourth Revolution, which stated that workers would need unique skill sets combining innately human skills, functional skills, know-how and experience and technological skills. Workers would increasingly combine social competencies, such as empathy, collaboration and social interaction, with higher-level thinking skills, and this would all be augmented by technology.

The Swinburne survey noted that there was quite a difference in the perspectives of Generation X, Baby Boomers and Millennials regarding the skills needed for the future workplace. Millennials rate emotional skills as being most important and believe that there is value in a good balance between emotional, digital and functional skills. This makes sense in that younger workers have more sophisticated capability in highly collaborative digital environments. They have the highest social networking penetration, perform the most freelancing work through digital platforms, and have the highest usage of massive multi-player online games.

The survey clearly highlights that workers will need specific skills or expertise related to their trade or profession, based on mastery of explicit knowledge. There will be a greater focus on solving complex problems, making decisions and working in ambiguous and dynamic problem-solving spaces. They will need balanced combinatorial skill sets so they can navigate the dynamic and disruptive digital environment with competence, confidence and resilience.

The report further notes that success in the workplace of the future will require enhanced social competencies, including empathy, collaboration, leadership and entrepreneurial skills, combined with the right mind-set where the individual is able to take risks, handle ambiguity and continuously learn. More than connecting with colleagues and clients, the ability to work with people across digital platforms with people in all corners of the globe will be essential.

The Swinburne report provided some examples of the different types of work that our girls might be doing in the future:

  • The medical specialist who exploits the diagnostic ability of AI, freeing her time to develop bespoke patient care.
  • The founder of a small start-up who supports and gets support from fellow entrepreneurs in the co-working space, recognising that the success of everyone feeds her success.

Reports about the future of work are important to my own understanding of the skills, mindsets and competencies our girls will need for their future careers and lives. The important messages I gained from the Swinburne report are that our young people will continue to learn on the job and functional expertise will go hand in hand with a  well-developed human skill set which includes empathy and collaboration. The ability to solve difficult problems and to work creatively through alternate solutions will be highly sought after in the workplace.

Our curriculum at Lauriston continues to change and evolve because we want to provide relevant subject disciplines and appropriate learning experiences for our students. Our co-curricular programs and activities enable our girls to develop their ability to collaborate with each other and develop relationships with their peers. Our unique Year 9 Howqua program is a cornerstone in the development of resilience, confidence and the ability to accept ambiguity.

I believe that our girls are well placed for the future of work, but we will continue to evolve our curriculum and learning experiences to provide them with opportunities to be well prepared for further studies and work.