‘Adapt and be flexible’ – graduate survival skills of the automated workplace

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With close to half of the activities in the Australian workplace expected to be automated by 2030, it will be the university students who are prepared to adapt and be flexible who will flourish in a digital environment.

Digital literacy expert, Associate Professor Jo Coldwell-Neilson, believes students already have the technological know-how. But she says the ubiquity of digital technology in the workplace means students need to start thinking about how they can adapt and apply their current technological knowledge to their field.

“Because of the way that work and the future is expected to change – and change very rapidly – graduates need to be prepared to be adaptable and flexible,” Coldwell-Neilson says.

“Having digital skills, capabilities and confidence around working with technology is going to be really important.”

A McKinsey Global Institute report reiterates this sentiment, estimating up to 46 per cent of workplace activities in Australia could be automated by 2030. Consequentially, it states “people will spend over 60 per cent more time using technological skills”.

Coldwell-Neilson says the best way university students can prepare for this is to “learn about the technologies that they are using” in the context of their studies. “The skills you’ve developed – for example using your mobile phone to access social media – are transferable to the workplace.”

However, she is worried that students are underestimating their abilities to adapt their current technological knowledge for the workforce.

“My thoughts around digital literacy is not that you know everything about computers. It’s that you have confidence with using the technology. That confidence will only grow with usage,” Coldwell-Neilson says.

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Many current university students fall into Generation Z. It’s the first generation to have never known a world without smart technology and digital connectivity, so they are highly influenced by a digital environment.

However, this digital environment poses a risk for graduate jobs, and Coldwell-Neilson doesn’t discount this.

“There’s a lot being said at the moment around how automation and digital disruption will be affecting jobs. It is inevitable. Unfortunately, technology does that.

“But there are a lot of new areas opening up. Five years ago, who would have thought that a social media analyst would be in huge demand?”

A Deloitte Insights article describes how “automation and the proliferation of technology are reducing the need for human intervention in many basic, routine tasks, the very activities entry-level professionals used to focus on”.

The jobs remaining for young professionals require higher-order critical thinking and reasoning.

Coldwell-Neilson says: “This is where the adaptability and flexibility comes in. Being able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and some of those opportunities you can’t anticipate.

“Some of the opportunities will be self-made, there will be a lot more opportunity for self-employment and generating your own work. So, the whole concept of the employee will change quite dramatically.

“Whatever happens in the future and however it does change, it comes down to being flexible and adaptable, and being able to transfer the knowledge and skills that you have gained over the years to these new situations.”

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