Adapting new skills to the changing world of work


By AGSM Nov 29, 2018 

Adapting new skills to the changing world of work

Businesses are rapidly adapting to changing customer demands, transformational technology and new competitive forces. And as we heard at the Equipping Emerging Leaders for the Future of Work panel discussion, strong technical skills are just a starting point for success – with adaptability and empathy as increasingly desired traits in new recruits. 

The event, hosted by AGSM @UNSW Business School in partnership with GradConnection, was designed for the audience of new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) graduates, who were keen to hear how they could best position their skills for the future of work.

Professor Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean UNSW Business School led the panel, which included Margaret Zou, a recent Google recruit and Young ICT Professional of the Year (2017), David Yates, PwC's Campus Recruitment Lead, and Van Le, AGSM MBA and Co-Founder and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Xinja. They all shared their unique perspectives on the growing demand for emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills at work.

"Personally, I believe empathy is the single biggest competitive advantage that any individual or organisation can have". Van Le, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Xinja

"Personally, I believe empathy is the single biggest competitive advantage that any individual or organisation can have," said Le. "It's vital for those you work with, for existing customers and future customers. The ability to have situational awareness so you can understand what's going on in their world, and what will move the conversation forward. This is what will see you succeed."

Empathy is also what propelled Margaret Zou in her tech career which she began as a software developer – and soon discovered her strengths in communication.

"I think one of the most valuable things I learnt was the ability to articulate the technical solutions to the end user, and show how they aligned with their business goals," said Zou.

It was only by being thrown in the deep end that Zou uncovered this talent.

"Within my first month working as a developer I was asked to pitch a solution to a client. I didn't have the technical skills to go deep into the details. So instead I sat back and listened to the client to gather the problem they were having," she explained.

By hearing the client's issue, she could step in their shoes and explain the solution to them using the terminology they understood.

"Taking that step back was powerful and valuable. That's something I've learnt and tried to enhance in my career to date. It led me to transition into more of a technical consultant role." And that eventually led her to Google.

'Soft skills' are far from simple

STEAM graduates typically have the analytical mindsets that result from studying technical and creative degrees, but those most in demand can pair a technical skillset with strong interpersonal skills, often referred to as 'soft skills'.

Don't let the 'soft' description mislead you – skills like empathy-led decision-making and critical thinking are arguably the most difficult skills to develop in work and life, and the panel agreed it's time the term had a re-brand.

Asked what they see as the priority skills for emerging leaders, the panellists described three ideal traits:

  1. Growth mindset – bringing an open, empathic approach to teamwork
  2. Critical thinking – problem solving with a fresh perspective
  3. Entrepreneurial spirit – adaptability and innate curiosity.

These unique and vital skills are not specifically taught in science and other STEAM degrees, but they are essential – especially when you're working with highly technical or complex information. And that's why they are a specific focus in AGSM's new Master of Management program.

Seeking new talent for customer-first models

Traditionally known as one of the Big 4 accounting firms, PwC has evolved as a professional services consultancy that now includes expertise in areas such as robotics, AI and cyber. Campus Recruitment Lead David Yates said STEAM graduate intake has increased significantly in the past five years, by up to 45 per cent. 

"Our client portfolio has changed, and the type of work we do for our clients has changed," he explained. "Diversifying our business makes new demands on our people and talent."

This shake-up of traditional business models has also led to the rise of start-ups, including 'neobanks' like Xinja.

"Banking has been dull, boring, grey for too long," said Co-Founder Van Le. "We're interested in bringing more humanity to banking – enabling people to do more with their money."

She said they conducted extensive research into the customer experience of banking. "Millennials told us everything in their lives is done so differently to their parents – except banking. So we saw an opportunity to make banking more mobile-driven and data-driven. It's about giving people more control, insight and data to make better life decisions."

In a time where uncovering customer needs relies heavily on data, the next challenge is to apply human insight to complex datasets and uncover new, competitive solutions – fast. 

And who are the best people for the job? It's likely to be the latest cohort of STEAM graduates, who are about to enter the workforce.

The panel's tips for new grads

  1. Back yourself – don't fall victim to imposter syndrome.
  2. Bring your whole self – don't give people what you think they want. Leave your assumptions at the door, and show your own passion and purpose.
  3. Network with purpose – think about what you want from the conversation before going up to people.
  4. Think about the experience you create – how will your future employers think of you? What will your future manager say it is like to work with you?
  5. Turn your network into advocates – be clear about who you are, what you stand for and what you're great at, and ask them to share that message.


The AGSM Master of Management is designed to help STEAM graduates emerge as the leaders of a new generation. To find out more, you can listen to a Webinar information session.


Any questions? Call or e-mail: +61 2 9931 9490 or

comments powered by Disqus