Beyond the gender agenda, it’s all about relevance

gender and diversity

By Sinead Hourigan

I’ve spent the past decade advocating for female representation and engagement at all levels of the workforce, so I was thrilled to be asked by the Australian Institute of Management to participate in the International Women’s Day Great Debate. And the subject I’ve been asked to talk about has really given me food for thought: “Australia in 2017 is no longer a man’s world”.

I’ve been asking myself, if Australia is no longer a man’s world, then whose world is it? The answer lies not in gender, or race, or religion, or even age. Australia’s economy and workforce is changing fast and, increasingly, the winners are those who understand what employers want, and keep themselves relevant.

According to consulting firm PwC, 44% of Australian jobs are at risk of disappearing over the next 20 years. That’s five million jobs. Much of that will be driven by robotics, automation, and digital disruption. But there is an upside – new jobs and new careers will be created too. The World Economic Forum points to research suggesting 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

If you want to build a career in our fast-changing economy, you must understand what employers need. If you can stay ahead of market demand, then you’ll be relevant. And if you’re relevant then the world can be your oyster. 

This means employees and employers must rethink some of their traditional ways of doing things.

Workers need to:

1. Embrace lifelong learning. Staying relevant means a continuous process of learning new skills and new technology. Education can’t stop after school or university. Your working life may span five decades or more, so keep training, training and retraining. 

2. Develop transferrable skills. Staying relevant also means being able to transition quickly and smoothly into new/emerging sectors of the economy. Make sure you pick up skills to carry with you, such as critical thinking, digital literacy and creativity. 

3. Seek careers advice. “Jobs for life” and “careers for life” are disappearing. Female or male, young or old – everyone will be switching careers more than ever before. Throughout your life, you will need to lean on advice from careers professionals, colleagues and friends. Which brings us on to...

4. Maintain your network. To stay ahead of trends and industry change by talking to those in the know. Join professional associations, attend events, and build a relationship with a recruitment provider who is across market demand.

Employers need to:

1. Be aware of (and overcome) unconscious bias. The workforce is changing, and stereotypes are completely unreliable indicators about a person’s ability to do a job well. Don’t pigeonhole candidates based on assumptions about their gender, age, etc.

2. Offer flexibility. The one-size-fits-all model of “nine-to-five Monday-to-Friday” can limit employers who want to tap in to the best talent in the market. 

3. Upskill your people. Workers know they need to stay relevant to remain competitive, and employers who help them do that will attract and retain the best talent. So provide your workforce with access to the latest technology, and offer them training and paths for career progression.

Success or failure will rest upon relevance, irrespective of gender.

4. Stay across changes in market demand. Work with a trusted recruitment partner who can advise on best practice and employment trends within the workforce.

Sinead Hourigan is Queensland Director at Robert Walters.


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