Turning disadvantages into advantages in an age of uncertainty

26 November 2021
Why the class of 2021 is the most employable yet

Your senior years have been full of disruptions and challenges. Professor John Shields explains why resilience will be your greatest asset and how to make the most out of a crisis.

When you started your final years of high school, bushfires were raging across the state. When the world was hit by a pandemic, you took on the challenge like no other generation has.

No matter what your future holds, it is clear that you have a unique skill set that is in high demand.

The future of work

Professor John Shields from the Business School says there is a misalignment between jobs of the future and the skills that employers are seeking.

“The jobs are being designed around the Internet of Things, the digital world, but the skills employers are looking for are soft capabilities, which are really at the cutting edge of who is going to get a job and who isn’t,” says Professor Shields. 

The theme among the top 20 emerging jobs revolve around digital literacy (i.e. artificial intelligence, digital marketing or data science) but, Professor Shields says that those technical and disciplinary skills are not enough. 

“Employers want breadth skills that are wide, not just depth skills that are narrow and deep, individuals with those soft skills will be marketable, agile, and adaptable through their career journey.” 

Knowing how to manage stress and setbacks that are beyond your control and still succeed – those are the critical strengths that this generation has, and they will be great hires from an employers point of view in 5 or 6-years' time.
Professor John Shields

Your unique skill set

Skills such as resilience, stress tolerance, flexibility, emotional intelligence, complex problem-solving are among the top 10 emerging skills in demand.* Skills that the HSC class of 2021 have gained from remote learning.

“We now live in a world that is much less certain and predictable – career paths are no longer linear. Future jobs are going to be much more digitally focused, much less long term, and they are going to be more volatile.”

“These young women and men know how to manage uncertainty, adversity, disruptions, stress, and they will be able to do it in my view much better than previous generations."

We asked Professor Shields what he would like to say to the class of 2021, and here is his advice.

Top tips from Professor Shields


Don't waste a crisis

“Use your experience positively to better understand yourself. How did you manage your stress, the uncertainty? What did it tell you about yourself as a human being?

What did it teach you about working collaboratively inside a space – because that is the way of the future.

Think about how you responded to the crisis – it will tell you a lot about your strengths.”


Take time to understand the emerging job prospects and skills

“Now is the time to understand what employers are saying about the skills they want – your attributes are going to be important in your employability. 

Don’t simply become a technologist, because that’s not enough anymore – you need to grow wider attributes, those breadth skills.”


Be prepared to be flexible

“Be prepared to navigate your way through non-linear career paths, the future is full of rapid changes in jobs, and your willingness to be mobile, adaptable and flexible will set you apart.”

Class of 2021, your senior years of high school may not have panned out as you imagined, but rest assured that your resilience and persistence have placed you in an advantageous position to take on more exciting opportunities.

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