Employability: how will changes to the world of work change the skills students need?


We already know that work and workplaces are changing. But what do these changes mean for the skills that students should be developing to improve their employability?

Previous generations had a simple recipe for success in their jobs: They chose a profession, acquired foundational knowledge and slowly became an expert as they gained experience. But career paths are becoming less predictable, and everyone needs to be more flexible in their approach. Specialists are increasingly feeling the need to generalise and develop expertise in related fields.

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that today’s graduates will probably have to navigate 17 workplace changes across about five different career paths. They will embark on a range of activities including short-term internships, volunteering and self-employment. They will need a commitment to lifelong learning, and in many cases, will end up working autonomously. This will mean that they need to be critical thinkers, good problem-solvers and most importantly, have strong communications skills to interact with people.

Developing core skills

Learning on the job will undoubtedly be crucial in future, because of the requirements for rapid response to information and technology when making decisions. Smart companies base their decisions on data, meaning that their workforce needs skills in analysing and interpreting information, consistently updating their thinking in response to new data. This is why the Harvard Business Review has branded data scientists “The sexiest Job of the 21st Century”: Analytics is rapidly becoming a mainstream career of choice.

How are schools preparing students to become data scientists? Dr. Michael Rappa, founder of the Institute of Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University — one of the first universities in the US to offer a Master of Science in Analytics — has provided some information about the role of data scientists and how the NCSU program helps prepare students:

Never stop learning. Especially today – there are so many great opportunities to continue to learn while on the job. Keep adding to the toolbox. Always be professional. Think about how your work is connected to and adds value to the business. Build strong relationships with colleagues – learn from them and share your knowledge.

Young people’s smart learning journey must therefore begin early in their formal education and continue through their working lives. It is, therefore, much more about cognitive and emotional skills, rather than technical. That said, there is also a need to focus on so-called STEM subjects from an early age – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This may mean changes in the style of teaching and learning.

Encouraging STEM careers

Children can be taught to code using innovative drag and drop UIs, making coding easier and even fun. The free app CodeSnaps from Curriculum Pathways, for example, is a great option for this. It is also important for future employers to play their part. SAS Australia held a “SAS STEM Day” in the SAS office during the September school holidays, aimed at students aged 11–14. The program aims to encourage early high school students to continue with mathematics and science subjects throughout their high school years. The day was designed to inspire the students to have fun coding and solving problems, and to hear real-life stories of maths and science careers.


Generations Y and Z have already lived through the tech revolution. They are at the forefront of the data revolution. They know how data can affect lives. Many are also aware that, irrespective of their chosen career paths, data analysis skills will help get them noticed. STEM and data science studies will provide data analysis skills, but these will need to be honed so that they can use their early learning to make positive changes in others’ lives and the environment.

If they can manage all this with a smile as well — because their ‘soft skills’ are good — then all the challenges are likely to bring rewards. It is a hard ‘ask’, but I think the next generation will rise to the challenge.

They might even use data science routinely to help them in everyday life!

Learn more about careers in Analytics and how business and education come together to educate new talents in our December series exploring Data Science.



About Author

Lucy Biasi

SAS Connection Program Manager ▪ Academic Outreach

Lucy supports SAS customers meet their needs for talented people across Australia and New Zealand. Through the SAS Work Placement Program, a part of SAS’ Academic Outreach Initiative, Lucy helps match STEM university students with SAS skills to SAS customers during university summer break. It allows organisations the chance to offer students an opportunity to demonstrate their skills using SAS solutions and allows students to put their theoretical study into practice, giving them real world experience in a corporate environment, across a range of industries.

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