Future skills: The know-how you need for the next era of business

Download The AGSM Business of Leadership podcast today on your favourite podcast platform.

Learn which skills will be in high demand in the next era of business, and how to build those skills in your organisation

About the episode

What will you need to know – or know how to do – to succeed in business over the next ten years?

A decade ago, the answer would have been to up-skill in tech. According to Lee Hickin, the AI Technology and Policy Lead for Microsoft in Australia, the advances we’ve seen in the last decade mean that “technology is not this thing that happens as a segment of a business, it’s actually how a business runs today.”

And mitigating the risks and impact of climate change is the new frontier. Penny Joseph, the Head of Climate Resilience at electricity distributor Ausgrid, believes more companies will create roles like hers, and explains the unique mix of skills roles like hers require.

Behyad Jafari, the CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council, has already seen entire industries updating the priorities of their skills base – he sees a future built on a ‘purple collar workforce,’ and explains what that looks like in the car manufacturing industry.

If you want to dive deeper into the skills of the future, listen to previous episodes of The Business Of featuring Lee Hickin, Penny Joseph and Behyad Jafari.

Want to know more? 

For the latest news and research from UNSW Business School and AGSM @ UNSW Business School, subscribe to our industry stories at BusinessThink and follow us on LinkedIn: UNSW Business School and AGSM @ UNSW Business School.


Lee Hickin: My nephew's 18, finishing his HSC, trying to think about his career courses and study. He loves technology, he wants to do technology. He's asking me the question, "How do I get into tech?" My response is, "Every job is a tech job. If you're going into finance, you want to be an actuary, you want to be a financial planner, you want to go into real estate. Whatever you want to do, you're probably going to find that tech is a core part of that."

Dr Juliet Bourke: Even a few years ago, there's no way you could have imagined the complex, fast-changing world we're now in the skills base required in your organisation is in a constant state of renewal. It's not just tech skills. Now businesses also need to have climate resilience skills.

Penny Joseph: Some people need to be experts in climate science, and we need those people who are really into the detail. But sometimes we need you know, people that just go okay, no, the business case doesn't have a climate resilience contribution. So that's what they need to have the step that just allows them to say no, go back and do a bit more work.

Dr Juliet Bourke: I’m Dr Juliet Bourke and this is The Business Of, a podcast from the Business School at the University of New South Wales. Today… what skills will be at the core of business leadership in the next decade? And what NEW roles are needed in the modern workforce?

Lee Hickin: Leaders need to understand how businesses really operate today and the truth of the matter is, technology is not this thing that happens as a segment of a business technology is actually how a business runs today. It is built on technology, your core functions and our business runs is technology based.

Dr Juliet Bourke: This is Lee Hickin. He’s Microsoft’s A-I Technology and Policy Lead in Asia. In recent years, Lee’s seen a shift in the way leaders think about the capabilities their employees bring to the team.

Lee Hickin: And that technology is quickly evolving to become less about running software, but actually are building software and operating software. So at some point, yes, leaders need to understand the art of programming, perhaps but don't think they need to be programmed, they need to understand how software is developed. But I wouldn't expect them all to be Python coders. I think what we're seeing is actually the evolution of software democratising the complexity of coding into human syntactical interfaces, so big become something that a human generally can interface with. So that, yes, a manager needs to ask questions of data.

Dr Juliet Bourke: One of the businesses in Australia that's done this particularly well is Domino's, they've made new technology a core part of every process of their business. And that means everybody in their workforce needs those digital skills.

Lee Hickin: You would assume that in a field like Domino's Pizza, their focus would be on the product, the pizza, how do you make the pizza, the very best pizza, so that people continue to come back to buy the pizza. But when they started their digital strategy, what they kind of looked at this from a resilience point of view was, we actually need skills in building the end-to-end customer experience of how do they get that pizza? And that starts with the app. And it starts with the service and, and how they connect to the platform. So they actually invested in decoupling some of their architecture so that things like pizza delivery, pizza operations, as in the process of making pizzas, customer experience, about what you order on the product, and how you build things are decoupled enough. So they could quickly iterate and innovate in those sectors. And then at the same time, you know, improve their products as they choose to the pizzas. And that, to me is thinking about, they didn't invest in technology to make better pizzas, they invested in technology to make a better pizza experience, which is adjunct to the actual product, but very important.

Dr Juliet Bourke: That transition to smarter technology, and smarter ways to use it has been at the forefront of business thinking for years. But the new frontier for skills the next great unknown is climate change. As consumers demand that businesses commit to more sustainable practices. A whole new set of skills is required from leadership teams.

Penny Joseph: When you're working in a climate change adaptation team, you can be a very small team.

Dr Juliet Bourke: This is Penny Joseph, she's the head of climate resilience at electricity distributor Ausgrid. It's a role that didn't even exist when Penny entered the workforce, but one she believes more companies will adopt.

Penny Joseph: But what is a better thing to do is if you can work through others in the organisation to really be able to bring them on board and make climate resilience part of everybody's job. One of the challenges for me is working out. When you're starting to progress. Are you starting to implement something new, when's the right time to actually put that into a business-as-usual process. Now, if you do that too early, then it's probably going to fall over. But if you do it too late, then what you're actually doing is taking up your time doing something that could be done by others. So that's, I think, a really important thing is how do you actually make climate change resilience, like the whole organization's job and responsibility?

Dr Juliet Bourke: So what skills does a climate resilience team need?

Penny Joseph: I have a multidisciplinary team of community engagement, people have technical people. But very importantly, I have a project manager. And I think that skill set is something that's often overlooked in the climate and space. But you know, having someone that sort of really calling out, well, if we don't get this thing done today, we're not going to be there in you know, three months time.

Dr Juliet Bourke: Penny says it's also important for everyone no matter what industry you're in, to know how to lead a team like this, because you're likely to have one pretty soon.

Penny Joseph: I expect that everybody will have climate resilience, climate mitigation as part of their roles, I think the job that I have is to be able to build the literacy of lots and lots of people. And I think that's the opportunity for organisations like AGSM. And, you know, some people need to be experts, you know, in climate science, and we need those people who, you know, really into the detail, but sometimes we need people that just go, Okay, no, the business case doesn't have a climate resilience contribution. So you know, go back and work. And that's what they need to know, they need to have the step that just allows them to say, no, go back and do a bit more work. And so different people are having different contributions. But I think in the future, a role like mine is about facilitating that. But everyone will be playing a part if they're not already.

Dr Juliet Bourke: It's about creating roles that can serve as an interface between the science and the business. So you can make well-informed decisions for your organization's future.

Penny Joseph: So the science is telling you one thing, but if you're trying to manage infrastructure, and you've got like an engineering inputs, and so the engineers will know questions like when is the infrastructure due for renewal, when do we have to invest in the next big thing. And so all of those points are opportunities for adaptation. So if you don't know those points, then you're not in a position to be able to make good insights either. But when you overlay the different layers with the different pieces of information, you find the practical places or the timelines when you can make a change.

Dr Juliet Bourke: Okay, let's take a closer look at one specific industry now. And the skill transformation required to meet the climate challenge. So Australia was once a global powerhouse in the car manufacturing game. But with a growing number of consumers switching to electric vehicles, the workforce needs a whole new set of proficiencies.

Behyad Jafari: It's what we sort of call purple collar. It's technicians, right. It's sort of engineers, technicians that are people who have reasonably high skills and reasonably high pay, and what manufacturers are looking for are things like the quality of the accreditation, the quality of the education, that pipeline of education.

Dr Juliet Bourke: Behyad Jafari is the CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council, which aims to accelerate the electrification of transport for a more sustainable Australia. 

Behyad believes skilled workers can find new opportunities if they’re willing to look in unusual places. In the case of car manufacturing, it’s actually developing a workforce that’s even MORE skilled so that Australia can still compete. 

Behyad Jafari: What we have to understand is that particularly for electric cars, modern day vehicle manufacturing looks pretty different to how it used to back and back in the 50s, when we set up the Holden factory, back then you would sort of need some five 600,000 vehicles in order to get a return on your investment on building those carts. Today, in more modular factories, a factory in order to be stood up to sort of make sense to be built, looks more like one or 200,000 vehicles. So that means something more like 10% of our market, given the competitive advantages of our workforce here in Australia, yes, usually picked on something as a negative because we have our employment costs. But to be clear, we're not competing for low skilled, low paid jobs. People want higher paying jobs. So there are manufacturing jobs that are lower skilled and lower paid, but we're not going to get those nor should we be aiming to. But then there are modern day factory or assembly lines are what we sort of call purple collar. It's technicians, right. It's sort of engineers, technicians, sort of people who have reasonably high skills reasonably high pay. So can you keep educating more and more technicians? Can you keep educating more and more engineers, and that's a place where we compete very strongly. So there are these advantages that we have that could help us get car manufacturing back.

Dr Juliet Bourke: Consumers want a green alternative, but other countries across the world are already a few steps ahead of us. So if we've got this intelligent and skilled workforce this purple collar workforce, what's stopping us?

Behyad Jafari: We are playing catch up in that field because others in area, like have been doing more and have been doing more for a lot longer. I mean, this relates pretty well, there's that difference of thinking and to sort of take it out of the political world to any business, right of any business would know that whatever field you're in, whether it's clean energy, or anything else is that you have to innovate in order to stay competitive, and in order to stay alive. But it's much easier not to. So you have these two competing interests of, we've got our assembly line products are coming off, they're going into shops and customers are buying it. Innovating is really difficult and really risky. You know, we have to do all of this other work that may not make any money for us at all. And if it does, it may not make money for a very long time. And we have to go out there and chase it and find it. And it's not what we already know how to do and what we're already succeeding at. So there is this, I think, a very human sort of urge to say let's just not bother, you know, let's just do what we're doing and that's okay. Any smart executive though, knows, well, if I do that, then I hope I'm going to retire in the next few years because that's when the business goes bust. So that's not what you do. You do innovate, you do grow, you make sure that you can because you know that all your competitors are innovating. And if you don't, they will and they will get out ahead of you.

Dr Juliet Bourke: The Business Of is a podcast from the University of New South Wales Business School, produced with Deadset Studios. To stay up-to-date with podcast episodes, as well as the latest insights and thought leadership from the Business School, subscribe to BusinessThink at businessthink.unsw.edu.au.


You are free to republish this article both online and in print. We ask that you follow some simple guidelines.

Please do not edit the piece, ensure that you attribute the author, their institute, and mention that the article was originally published on Business Think.

By copying the HTML below, you will be adhering to all our guidelines.

Press Ctrl-C to copy