While the skills needed for the workplace of the future were already evolving before COVID-19, the pandemic has highlighted the need for new capabilities – digital business skills in particular.

Lockdowns have accelerated the uptake of digitally driven workforce trends, propelling us into a world where flexible working arrangements, online collaboration and agile principles are the norm.

It’s also shown that the in-demand worker of the future will not only be highly adaptable and digitally capable, but also skilled in collaboration and agile working – with EQ just as important as IQ.

The in-demand skills of tomorrow

The World Economic Forum forecasts that by 2030, one billion of us will need to be reskilled to meet the needs of a digitally connected world.1 Meanwhile, labour shortages due to border closures seem likely to precipitate an upskilling of the Australian workforce.

Earlier this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed that a quarter of Australian businesses (27%) were struggling to find staff. The ABS reports that, amid an upsurge in vacancies, two in three job applicants didn’t have the right skills or qualifications, highlighting a growing skills gap.2

So what should workers be doing now to prepare themselves for the future? David Rumbens, Partner with Deloitte Access Economics, says traditional university offerings will increasingly be supplemented by refresher and short courses to meet the demand for new skills. He also says the most sought-after employees will be those who can balance technical skills with ‘soft’ skills like the ability to collaborate, think critically and empathise. 

“These areas have been identified as being in deficit in Australia, but they’re what employers want when selecting between different candidates with the same or equivalent technical skills.” 

Shelley Hudson, CommBank Executive General Manager for Organisational Development, echoes Rumben’s sentiments. She says that while banking increasingly requires individuals with technology, digital, cyber engineering and risk management skills, there’s also strong demand for interpersonal and psychosocial skills.

“When we look to the ‘softer’ skills, quality leadership is absolutely paramount for us,” Hudson says.

“We need people who are curious, who can work across boundaries and cut through complexity; people who can shape the workforce of the future. We’re really looking for leaders who have learning agility, as well as the ability to grow people."

Making workplaces work for employees

With competition for skilled staff intensifying, employers are under increasing pressure to attract and nurture talented people.

Hudson says employers need to meet employees’ expectations for flexibility and purpose. Globally, PwC reports that 72% of workers have expressed a desire to continue to work from home, even when offices reopen.3 Giving employees this flexibility helps boost staff satisfaction, retain top talent and make an organisation more attractive to potential new hires.

Organisations also need to be clear about their purpose. Employees are increasingly seeking organisations whose values align with their own. Hudson says that “being a purpose-led organisation allows us to attract a different calibre of person, engage and retain people for longer, and mobilise them more across different roles in the workforce.”

“The more people feel connected to their leaders and the purpose of the organisation, the more permission they feel they have to test and try new things over time.”  

Lockdowns and social restrictions have also highlighted the importance of employee wellbeing and the need for employers to be more aware of wellness.

“Awareness of our people’s mental health is something we cannot ignore,” warns Hudson. “It’s something that organisations need to understand more so they can support their people over the long term.”

Adjusting our ways of working

New ways of working also call for a rethink of traditional organisational structures. Hudson says that, increasingly, we’ll see hierarchical organisational structures replaced with ‘swarm’ models – where multiple team members come together to work on a single task before quickly disbanding.

“Swarm models increase the visibility of each employee’s effort and skills, quicken the pace of projects and allow greater innovation. There’s more end-to-end accountability.”

They also capitalise on skills that are often hidden from view in a traditional hierarchical approach – enabling employers to focus on the capabilities most likely to matter in the future workforce.

Nurturing an agile mindset

Flexible, focused teams are just one aspect of nurturing an agile organisational mindset – an approach that can yield tangible operational and financial benefits. A 2020 analysis of 22 organisations around the world by McKinsey & Company found that a successful agile transformation can improve financial performance by 20–30%.4 What does an agile organisation look like? McKinsey & Company says agile organisations have the ability to quickly redirect their people and priorities toward value-creating opportunities, with flexible, empowered teams and rapid learning cycles.

While nurturing agility can be challenging for large organisations with significant legacy technology and practices, many have already taken the first step by empowering remote work, flexible hours, and outcomes-based management processes.

The next step, says Hudson, is to adopt a test and learn mentality to enable further innovation –not only in product development, but also in HR practices.

She also believes that businesses who commit to a more agile mindset can enjoy benefits beyond improved productivity and financial outcomes, including more successful innovation and more connected teams.

“While our journey is far from complete, our people now know each other more personally than they ever have – we’re being more human at work. We’ve seen a massive uptick in engagement, with people feeling closer to our customers and to our purpose.”

Three steps towards a future workforce

Hudson says there are three key steps you can take now to make your workforce future-ready:

1. Back your people’s career aspirations, health and wellbeing

2. Offer choice and flexibility in the way they work

3. Connect your people to their leadership team and your organisation’s purpose

Our workforce of the future experts

David Rumbens is a Partner with Deloitte Access Economics. A macroeconomist, he has extensive experience in applied economic and quantitative analysis of the Australian economy. For 20 years, David has been advising senior government officials and leaders in Australia’s corporate sector about the current economic environment, risks and strategy. He regularly lends his knowledge to commentate on macroeconomic trends, while also preparing the Australian section of Deloitte’s weekly economic briefing newsletter.

Shelley Hudson is CommBank’s Executive General Manager for Organisational Development. A Senior HR executive with exceptional experience in developing strategic, business-leadership and development solutions, Shelley uses her broad skills and practical insights to drive organisational performance through the implementation of culture, change, performance management, talent and development initiatives.

This article is part of the CommBank Foresight Spotlight Series, helping guide Australian businesses towards a stronger economic future.

Visit Spotlight Series

Things you should know

1 Saadia Zahidi, We need a global reskilling revolution – here's why, World Economic Forum, 22 January 2020.

2 ABS, A quarter of businesses unable to find suitable staff, June 2021.

3 PwC, Hopes and fears 2021, 2021.

4 McKinsey & Company, Enterprise agility: Buzz or business impact?, 20 March 2020.

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