Changing skills — perspective on the future workforce

Silvia Zuur
Nov 22, 2017 · 7 min read

The following are some notes and thoughts that I shared during a keynote at Wellington’s Work in Progress conference.

I’m a social entrepreneur. I’m an innovator. I’m a problem solver. I don’t fit in your traditional career box. My career might be considered an outlier thus far, but this may soon become the norm. The future of work is changing. The fixed job description of the past is no longer relevant, yet the job descriptions of the future have not yet been written.

Over the past six years I’ve helped to build the future from here in Wellington. These logos represent a handful of work done during this time. As a facilitator, a founder, an event manager, CEO, or as a Director, I’ve been asking a lot of questions:

  • Education: How might we fundamentally shift education from being controlled on the supply side, to being demand-driven? How might we connect the people who have things to teach with the people who want to learn?
  • Politics: How might we collectively imagine a future vision of Aotearoa New Zealand, that is fair and flourishing for all?
  • Youth wellbeing: How might we increase the capacity of the system to support the wellbeing of young people, so that a generation of New Zealanders might flourish?
  • Entrepreneurship: How might we help more people to work on stuff that matters?
  • Events and programmes: How do we create events and spaces which are human-centric?
  • Opening the world and positioning NZ on the global stage: What if we open sourced everything?

That’s part of my scattered professional story, and it’s definitely not what I imagined it to be. There is one question that I believe all of us were asked at some point in our childhood: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Me? I wanted to sail around the world and save the dolphins.

And what about you? What did you want to be when you grew up?

Now imagine, what if the job title you grow into has not even been invented yet. Social Media Marketing Manager sure did not exist when I was asked that question many years ago.

So now think about today’s 8 year old? What job description are they growing into? I don’t think any of us can be bold enough to say we know. The world is changing at such a rate that I can’t even begin to imagine what that will be like. But one thing we do know is that the current, and next, generation are driven by passion. They cannot be driven by job titles, as the ones they might grow into may not exist yet.

Image source:

Foundation for Young Australians

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) is a brilliant organisation that, amongst many things, looks at the changing world our young people are growing up into and what skills and resources they might need to face it. As they quote:

In the past, building a successful career required young people to learn core technical skills for an occupation, and gradually broaden their skills and experience over time. This is what it meant to be ‘work smart’. Today, automation and globalisation have led to a loud and compelling narrative about the future of work, and career paths appear more complicated.

They note that the following three things are going to impact the future of work:

  • Automation: Ever-smarter machines are performing ever-more human tasks — taking, replacing or eliminating the need for whole categories of employment.
  • Globalisation: Our workforce is going global and the global workforce coming to us.
  • Collaboration: Technology is increasing the potential for cooperation and collaboration across multiple platforms.


Within this changing context FYA asked what skills are most needed, and in demand, for our changing world — and they have suggested four.

I’m going to work through each of these four skills and provide some insights that I have seen in this space. I don’t work for FYA and was not involved with this research, so I’ve taken their direction and applied it to my own experiences.

Digital literacy

I am part of a small cohort who grew up analogue and now work digitally (I got my first cell phone at the age of 17). The generation behind me grew up digital. They have a vastly different relationship to technology than anyone before them. So I don’t believe digital literacy is how to use technology, I think it’s far more about how we stay awake to the role of technology in our lives.

Who builds our technology? What is the impact and opportunity of technology in my life?

My biggest fear is that I do not see enough of the conversation about who is building these technological tools. The fact the Apple released their health app without a period tracker feels like the best case study there is. I mean really??!?!

I’ve been involved with Enspiral Dev Academy for the last couple of years. We are training a community of developers who realise that if you want to be a good programmer: study code; but if you want to be a great programmer: study people. They understand people. They empathise with people. Additionally one of our missions is to bring population parity to the tech workforce. How might the technology workforce reflect the society that it is building the technology for?

How might this affect your business, your career and/or your employees or colleagues? What is your role with the digital world? Who is shaping your technology? Who have you recently hired onto your tech team?

Critical thinking

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Many of you will know these quotes. The internet seems confused if they are attributed to Einstein or not, but regardless I think they speak to this skill of critical thinking. Can you take these quotes and apply them to your workplace now? I’ve seen many forms of “insanity” in the workplace, I’ve also seen much old thinking trying to solve new problems. This is where diversity in the workplace is crucial, as it invites diverse thinking and perspectives as well as new ways of trying things. We need to invite different people to step up and solve our current problems with new thinking.

Are you trying to same things over and over again? What new thinking have you invited into your workplace recently?


We need critical thinking, but I also want to suggest that we need creative feeling. For me creative feeling is about ethics, morality and integrity.

And the place I see this having the most impact is in primary education. We need schools which teach our children morality and ethics, schools which teach children's head, heart and hands.

How are you bringing more creativity into your workplace? Are you enabling space for creative feeling, as well as creative thinking?

Presentation skills

The new story of the future is what comes to mind when I think about presentation skills. It’s not just about presenting, or telling, its about creating that new story.

Specifically I want to talk about the future story of yourself. In the future you will not get your job based off a a A4 bullet pointed job description. It will be how you tell the story of your self. What is the story you tell about your future that you are growing into?

What does this mean?

So that’s my take on those four skills. It’s an enquiry, some questions for you to ponder. What questions are you now asking? What skills are you bringing into the future? How might we collectively:

Grow in the direction of the questions we ask?

My contribution to the conference Great Debate: Pros and Cons of the Gig Economy can be found here.

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