Shape your future or be shaped was a key message to come out of the Digital Economy Skills round table co-hosted by The Australian Financial Review and DeakinCo. and it was one strongly aimed at Australia's small business sector.
For KPMG's national leader people and change, Stefanie Bradley, the first movers in the transformation of the workplace are the ones who identify change as an opportunity to shape their businesses right now.
"They are not looking at change around the idea of cost reduction, or productivity gain, but are looking at this around better service delivery, and relevance, and lifelong learning for their employees. They're the organisations that are going to just leap ahead," Bradley said.
Identifying change as an opportunity is a mindset much of the nation's small business sector already has, Deakin Business School director of small business and enterprise and former federal small business minister Bruce Billson said at the round table.
For example, an accounting firm which might have 30 per cent less traditional work to do because of digital technologies does not necessarily trim its output and staff by 30 per cent.
"With the time they now have available, they could be doing higher value, higher rigour analytical, strategic, dare I say soft-skilled type work," he said.
Billson pointed out "soft-skilled" type of work stretches well beyond white-collar professions and in his work as a consultant with DeakinCo. he can see where they can be applied in the trades for instance.
He cited the work of a good tradesperson whose soft skills have ensured their work is more than just getting the job done but contribute to the story behind the business and the level of individual service provided.
Billson said Australian small businesses did not have the scale to employ a chief digital officer for example, but the soft skills already inherent in their businesses enabled them to tap into a wider network and manage relationships with core business process suppliers.
It is about collaborating with "pathfinders that will enable them to succeed".
"It's a navigational thing by finding people who've done it, and done it well and discovering what learnings are in there for me? It's a new skill set. Small business can't always have the skills in-house so they need those soft skills because they can help with mobility, and keep you relevant, and enable you to adjust, adapt, absorb, and grow," Billson said.
"Soft skills set you up to navigate through this dynamic time by allowing you to talk with people on a similar journey."
Interestingly, in Deloitte Access Economics' most recent Connected Small Businesses report, nearly three quarters of Australian small businesses surveyed agreed taking an active interest in how other businesses were deploying technology was important in how they engaged themselves. Moreover, gaining that understanding was seeing them become more digitally engaged, which translated to their being 50 per cent more likely to be growing revenue; and earning 60 per cent more revenue per employee.
It is this opportunity to learn and earn more through maintaining and leveraging networks that excites KPMG's Bradley because it is "wonderful to see people learn and discover with a curious mindset and see what that uncovers".
Fellow round table participant Miguel Carrasco, who is Boston Consulting Group's global practice leader, digital and technology transformation in the public sector, agreed building a soft skills base was worthwhile as we talked about reskilling Australian business across the board.
"It is going to be a collaborative effort across government, business, education and even parents," he said. "We all have to play a role in making sure we can make the transition to the future economy. It's about adapting and responding to change and ensuring we're prepared to navigate the disruption and potential dislocation of the future."
This article was originally published by The Australian Financial Review on 26 July 2018.