What Skills are needed by Industry. Does Anyone Know?


There’s no shortage of experts telling us which skills university graduates need to be ready for tomorrow’s labour market.

But the difficult truth is that we don’t know what specific skills will be required in ten years time. Just like we didn’t know ten years ago how social media, artificial intelligence, robotics or autonomous vehicles would be multi-billion dollar global industries.

So how do we begin to determine what and how skills are taught? My economics lecturer used to say that ‘one should not rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Not all skills become redundant and not all that we teach becomes dated. But the challenge is to filter through what is delivered in a structured way to determine what is really adding to the leaners’ overall journey.

Its easy to jump on the bandwagon and start thinking of this as a ‘another’ piece extolling the virtues of the recently appreciated ‘soft’ skills. However what we need to do is look at all the non-technical, non-subject specific skills that are imparted in Higher Education.

There are numerous skills we don’t talk about because we just take it for granted that learners will inculcate them as part of the immersion process. These are personal and social attributes. These form part of the character qualities as the ‘Work Economic Forums’ define them. There is no structure in their delivery, monitoring of their acquisition or assessment of their application.

These non-technical skills and character qualities are the one that help build societies, not just economies. Maybe we are just not that interested yet to achieve that level of nirvana. 

I the reality is that Institutions are not sufficiently rewarded for building these kinds of attributes or creating an environment, which fosters Curiosity, Leadership, Initiative, Adaptability, Social awareness, Cultural awareness or Persistence. And to be clear a lot of institutions do so without such direct reward being in place.

Putting that cynicism to one side let's focus on Employer needs. These are the practical, pragmatic skills, which can be tied more closely to goals and deliverables and ‘easier’ to measure.

The reality is that irrespective of corporate/employer jargon the requirements are not too dissimilar. Various organisations have spent a lot of time, money and effort trying to codify these.

It is fair to say that one 'delegates' basic/foundation skills to, or at least assumes they will be, acquired in learners during the K12 years. These cover Literacy, Numeracy, Scientific literacy, Tech literacy, Financial literacy, Cultural literacy and Civic literacy.

The aptly named “Institute of the Future” at the University of Phoenix came up with a range of employer ready skills, which have been updated and added to by others. These include:


  • Personal Skills which they rightly summarise as core Resilience
  • People Skills which encompassed Cross-Cultural Competency, Social Intelligence and Virtual Collaboration
  • Applied Knowledge to ensure that it was beyond just the theoretical and covered Novel & Adaptive thinking, Cognitive Load Management, Sense-Making.
  • Workplace Skills such as New-Media Literacy, Design Mindset, Transdisciplinarity, Computational Thinking

These may actually be closer to serving the economic purpose of employers than pure technical skills and start to cover the over-arching competencies of Critical Thinking, Problem solving, Collaboration and Communication.

But just like the expectations of employers, and the market, in this respect, towards such skills we have to remain flexible and nimble. The key principle must be that with a strong foundation to build on, we can look at the skills which best help the learners contribute to society.

But more importantly for the institution, and the education process more widely, is to collectively act as the enabler that nurtures the leaners to help them achieve their full potential.

Keith HampsonComment