The skills that define entrepreneurial and professional success have gone digital. More than half of all Australians now feel that they need stronger digital skills to remain employable in the future, while 85 per cent believe that every company, no matter its size, needs a digital strategy. Businesses must no longer treat digital skills as an add-on, but as an inextricable part of marketplace leadership and entrepreneurship.
“Tomorrow’s workplace will be more fluid, fast-paced, and focused than ever before, with entrepreneurs gradually replacing employees at the core of many businesses,” says Jeffery Tobias, AGSM Fellow at the UNSW School of Business. “We already see that happening with the rise of freelance workforces, the gig economy propagated by businesses like Uber and AirTasker, and Australia’s vibrant start-up community.
“Digital technology has played a pivotal role in shaping this workplace, and all Australians – especially business leaders – must make it a part of their professional DNA to stay relevant.”
Investing in specialist digital skillsets may only provide limited career advantage in the future: those in the once-hot profession of data science, for example, are likely to face pressure from both increased automation and a growing corpus of ‘layman’ analytic skills. Instead, tomorrow’s business leaders should focus on developing a broad base of digital ‘basic skills’ alongside the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. They can do so by covering four major areas of professional development:
Digital literacy. Rather than knowing just one or two specific technologies in-depth, business leaders will need a basic proficiency across numerous digital areas, from social media to data analytics to coding. The most successful of these leaders may adopt a “T-shaped” model to their skills development, focusing deeply in one specific digital discipline while also acquiring core competencies in a range of others. Doing so not only prepares business leaders to manage a variety of different talents – it also makes them more adaptable to new technologies when they emerge on market.
Critical thinking. According to analysis commissioned by Google, Australian employees will spend around two hours more a week on creative and interpersonal decision-making by 2030, thanks to rising levels of automation taking over many predictable, repetitive tasks. Employees who can cultivate those skills now will find themselves not only more sought-after for their heightened productivity, but also more adept at turning digital technologies to their own entrepreneurial advantage.
Collaboration. The fixed-employee workplace is being rapidly replaced with part-time, freelance, and contract workers. Nearly 90 per cent of new jobs in Australia are part-time, and 30 per cent of the workforce comprises of ‘contingent labour’. Working in this environment requires not only highly flexible people-management skills that can adapt to different personalities and working styles in a short span of time. It also requires business leaders to maintain proficiency with a variety of digital tools, from VoIP to collaboration platforms like Basecamp, required to mediate communications between a growing number of remotely-based workers. The ability to team up with anyone, no matter where or how they operate, will be one of the most prized abilities in corporate leadership of the future.
Financial acumen. A recent survey conducted by the ASIC has revealed that one in four people under the age of 35 agree they have difficulty in understanding financial matters. As traditional employment cedes ground to self-employment and freelancing, all professionals need to comfortably handle the basics of budgets, cost controls, and revenue growth. Such skills will not only benefit entrepreneurs, research from the Foundation of Young Australians suggests financial-literate employees can earn a premium of up to $5000 per month compared to their less fiscally-savvy counterparts.
Communication. The abilities to broker consensus, manage change, and negotiate successful deals have always played a major role in any business leader’s success. Tomorrow’s leaders, however, must learn to do so in increasingly digitally-mediated environments, from holding board meetings via telepresence to editing contracts on OTT messaging platforms like WhatsApp or Telegram. Leaders who can empathise and moderate the flow of ideas in always-on, increasingly intrusive digital mediums will find themselves particularly successful in both corporate and entrepreneurial environments.
“Some jobs will disappear due to technology, but most will evolve in rapid and substantial ways,” says Tobias. “In the face of such rapid change, strong basic skills in digital technology and entrepreneurship hold the key to becoming a successful business leader.
“The fundamentals of doing business – communication, collaboration, and a head for numbers – will never go away. Instead, business leaders must learn how to apply these abilities in a digital world where everyone is an entrepreneur, a technologist – and also a potential partner for growth.”
Watch CEO and Founder of Airtasker Tim Fung discuss smart disruption here.