Posted: 08 Mar. 2019 5 min. read

Finding the balance

A workforce which is uniquely human

Millennials are simultaneously overqualified and under-skilled.

Data from an OECD study reports that 15% of Australian graduates are overqualified for their jobs[1], working in fields which do not require a degree. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum is advocating that traditional learning is leaving graduates without the skills they need to contribute in the workplace.[2]

Increasing HECs debt and a workforce skills gap presents complex problems for many stakeholders. Co-Founder of LinkedIn, Allen Blue states that “many members of the global workforce can’t keep up with the shift in skills required for jobs”[3]. Given the heavy focus on traditional knowledge such as literacy, numeracy and recall skills in assessments, it is no surprise that students are lacking the 21st Century skills they need to succeed.

21st Century skills are traits that are universally applicable and in-demand in the modern era. As relevant and important as technical skills are, adapting to new ways of working by leveraging the characteristics and behaviours which make us uniquely human will give us an edge over AI.

Skills frequently rated by the World Economic Forum as important for 21st century workers include[2]:

  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Curiosity
  • Initiative
  • Persistence
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
  • Social and cultural awareness

The workforce skills gap gives rise to two questions:

Firstly, whose responsibility is it to ensure students graduate with the necessary skills for today’s workforce? More broadly, how do employees continually maintain relevant skills despite a rapidly changing workforce?

The answer to both may be found through a thoughtful balance of traditional technical skills and newer, more human-centric ways of working. Many of these 21st century skills are uniquely human, and learning to solve the problems of others through transdisciplinary group work is one way to develop these skills. The practice of human-centred innovation could also offer a safeguard for the future as it requires advanced communication skills, and demonstration of empathy, creativity, and adaptability.

These previously under-prioritised skills will become ever more crucial with the rise of robotics and AI. Predictions by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia indicate that almost five million jobs are likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence in the next twenty years[4]. Others, such as the founder of China’s Sinovation Ventures, Dr. Kai Fu Lee, suggest that jobs which utilise the characteristics of creativity, complexity, dexterity, empathy and compassion will not be replaced by AI[5]. Regardless of the resulting conclusion, it is undisputable that the future of work will be very different, and it’s difficult to clearly determine how.

The best we can do for future generations is to equip them with the versatility and resilience they need to adapt to the rapidly evolving work environment – a monumental challenge which poses more questions than answers. Perhaps AI will become a self-inventing, self-constructing, self-improving and empathetic force, replacing the societal structures we know today. One can only speculate. Until then, we can do some self-evaluation and self-improvement of our own by asking, ‘how can we each ensure that we’re prepared to navigate the challenges ahead?’


More about the author

Michaela Curry

Michaela Curry


Michaela specializes in innovation capability development and spreading the innovation message across Deloitte. She leads the firm’s internal innovation podcast series, Candid Conversations, showcasing leading innovators speaking candidly about what innovation looks like in their industry.