When COVID-19 hit, it crammed about five years’ worth of digital change into eight weeks. Companies had to rapidly shift their operations online, find new ways to automate and serve customers and, in some cases, tear down their business model all together and start again.
Then, of course, there were the workers themselves. The pandemic accelerated and normalised the adoption of remote work faster than anyone could have anticipated. People no longer have to live close to the office, or even in the same city. More and more Australians are making the move to the country, and that geographic shift is having huge implications for business. With most of their staff working remotely, companies need robust digital infrastructure, they need the right systems in place, and they need staff who can adapt to changing circumstances on the fly.
In short: the world is evolving fast, and there’s never been a better time to upskill.
“Workforce reductions due to the pandemic have led more workers to take over new workplace responsibilities,” said Frank Connolly, director of research at MindEdge Learning. “In this ‘new normal,’ it is critical that companies find ways to upskill and retrain their employees. Efficient and effective professional development courses have become a business necessity.”
The labour market is definitely choppy right now. And while it isn’t always possible to future-proof your job (especially at a time when many companies are downsizing or making cuts) it is possible to future-proof your career. To acquire the right mix of hard and soft skills to make yourself more employable in the post-COVID world.
So what does that look like? Well, Linkedin have already released their top skills data for 2021, and it’s leaning heavily into tech-focussed future skills. This year, employees at Linkedin Top Companies grew their skills in Amazon Web Services (up 42%), Python (up 25%) and machine learning (up 23%). Interestingly, workplace collaboration skills also appeared on the list, with employees choosing to focus on PM systems like Jira (up 31%) and Scrum (up 15%). You could throw data science, blockchain and digital transformation into the mix, too, along with crucial soft skills like creativity, communication, problem solving and teamwork.
It’s no longer enough to be good at your niche. The world is too uncertain to rely on any one role, or any one employer. As journalist Natasha Boddy puts it, professionals need to take “an entrepreneurial approach to their career”. We need to think of education not as some static thing in the past—a finite pool of knowledge we acquired at school or university—but as a continuous process of learning, improvement and opportunity that happens all the time. That’s the concept of lifelong learning, and it’s one of the best ways to future-proof your career.
"Be really conscious about where the world of work is going and making sure your skills are continuously being updated so that you've skills that are flexible and adaptable,” says workplace expert Michelle Gibbings. “That means never being complacent about the position you currently find yourself in.”
There are other factors to consider, too. Consumer demands have changed since the pandemic, probably forever: according to Mckinsey, about 75% of people using digital channels for the first time say they’ll keep using them when things return to “normal”. Demand recovery will also be uneven across industries, forcing some employees to jump into fields and sectors they’ve never tried before. And finally there’s remote work, which is re-shaping how companies utilise their teams, ramping up speeds and dragging staff into new technical fields, whether they’re ready for them or not.
“In effect, remote ways of working have, at least in part, driven the faster execution drumbeat that we’re all experiencing in our organizations,” Mckinsey says. “And this step change in remote adoption is now arguably substantial enough to reconsider current business models.”
So how do we go about upskilling? The good news is that professional upskilling has become faster, simpler and more accessible in recent years. It’s no longer necessary to put your career on hold for three or four years while completing an on-campus Bachelor’s degree (in fact, the local e-learning sector has boomed to $8.1 billion, roughly 145% up from three years ago).
Universities like RMIT Online offer short online courses that can fit around your work schedule. Most of them take between three and six months to complete. And there’s a clear progression of practical skills designed to make you more employable (not just more educated). If you want to learn AI and machine learning, master data science and analytics, or brush up on software development, there’s nothing stopping you. If anything, we’re all professionally obligated now to expand our skillset and invest in our own education.
The future is uncertain—if there’s one thing all experts can agree on right now, it’s that nobody can predict the next five years, let alone the next five weeks—and the best thing you can do is be prepared. You can’t adapt to what you don’t understand. The trick, if there is a trick, is simply to broaden your understanding.