Aquent Aquent

The new skills you need for the digital age

by Ben Gilchriest

The new skills you need for the digital age

The changing nature of the skills we need to be successful

Five years ago having ‘Social Media’ in your title was avant-garde. This didn’t last long though. As businesses struggled to build capability the number of advertised ‘Social Media’ jobs grew exponentially. Then, in 2012, the market began to dry up. This didn’t mark the end of a need though; the decline was matched by an increase in demand for social media skills in other roles. In just five years social media went from a job function to a job requirement.

Working in the Digital Age also requires a new set of skills, ones that are often discordant with the way we’ve been expected to work in the past. Some reports also estimate that nearly half of all current jobs will be automated within 20 years, changing the very nature of the work we do. Taken together it’s clear that the type of skills we need to be successful, how rapidly we need to add these, and even the nature of what we do in our jobs, will continue to evolve significantly.

Are we ready?

Simply put, we aren’t, with major change needed at multiple levels;

  1. Education & Learning Systems; the way we’re taught is based on an Industrial Age education system – a ‘learn by rote’, qualification, and classification track that’s about knowledge storing and re-call. This is at odds with what’s needed in the Digital Age where the focus is on locating, assessing, and representing new information quickly (see Sir Ken Robinson’s video and Shifting Thinking for more).
  2. Business Investment; whilst 90% of companies recognise they lack the necessary digital skills, only 46% are investing in developing them. And even where businesses are investing, they’re struggling to keep up as developing classroom-based training takes so much time it’s often outdated before it’s taught.
  3. Individual Re-Thinking; we are products of an Industrial Age education system (see point 1) and often have had the divergent thinking needed for the Digital Age ‘educated’ out of us. Even those generations which are supposed to have this way of thinking hard-coded into them, Millennials, don’t have the necessary digital skills.

Preparing countries, businesses, and ourselves

There is clearly a government role in re-designing the education system to ready future generations. And some great work has begun; for example, the thinking from New Zealand CER, and the annual Computer Science Education Week in the US. However, much more is needed and, as The Economist put it, “no country is ready”.

Businesses also have a role to play by investing in employee development. This doesn’t mean formal classroom training though. More innovative approaches are needed; for example, employee exchanges with digitally-led company, partnering with start-ups, or reverse mentoring programs where graduates teach the leadership about digital.

And finally, the span which is in our most direct control, individual action. Either by driving the above or by developing your own skills and understanding. For example;

  1. Learn code; whilst this isn’t an absolute requirement it will bring a fresh perspective to problem solving and provide an important understanding of the fundamentals of technology.
  2. Read and explore; not just to accumulate knowledge, but to understand in more detail what it means to operate in the Digital Age (get in touch for recommended reading).
  3. Collaborate with a Start-up (or start your own); the difference in approach will be a massive learning experience for you (get in touch for some recommended tools).
  4. Co-work; co-working spaces are widely and cheaply available throughout Australia. You’ll learn a great deal about Digital Age ways of working by spending time with the residents (if possible arrange to be there on pitch days to get feedback on your ideas and projects).
  5. Experiment; try a digital project to apply and build on what you’ve learnt. You can do this on a small, low risk scale and still get something out of it. For example, we frequently run short, two week experimental digital projects to test ideas and evolve understanding.
A few years back someone described to me what it meant to reach a real comprehension of Digital Age ways of working; “it’s like crossing the border into a new country. I’d read the guide book before but it wasn’t until I got there that I really understood it”. Theory is good, but practical is far more important. Read by all means, but above all, try something different.

Explore more on digital transformation at


Ben Gilchriest

Ben is focused on helping companies understand and achieve their digital future. He has led consulting practices in both Australia and the UK for 14 years, including the design, setup, and leadership of the Digital Transformation practice for Capgemini ANZ. He has defined and led a wide range of major digital transformation and strategy projects, all with a focus on the customer, to deliver step changes in operational performance. He is part of several global forums on digital transformation and developed and delivered methodologies across a range of domains including social media, Enterprise 2.0, and digital commerce. Most recently he setup the Digital Transformation Lab Australia, a joint venture with the University of Sydney Business School, that is setting new standards for Australian businesses across a wide range of digital domains.

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