Margaret Thatcher, Alfred Hitchcock had valuable L&D opportunities: Report

by L&D21 Jul 2016
"Alfred Hitchcock trained as an engineer. Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist. People who combine deep learning in a discipline with the insight to think and work beyond it can catch opportunities that others miss,” said Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

"The same is true of teams in the modern workplace: they need to mix depth of expertise with breadth of perception and skills."

Dr Finkel’s comments come after findings from a new report show Australia’s best innovators will embrace a mix of skills (creative, business and technical) "to tap new sources of wealth".

The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) report titled Skills and capabilities for Australian Enterprise Innovation, reveals the business practices of today’s innovation leaders.

It finds that skill integration is a major theme in the workplace strategies of 19 case study enterprises.

This includes Cochlear (medical technologies), Envato (technology solutions for creative assets), Cotton Australia (agriculture), Pernod Ricard (global wine marketers), Laing O'Rourke (large-scale engineering and construction), and Woodside (mining).

These organisations have excelled in their fields by taking a "long-term strategic approach to attracting and building a diverse and inclusive workforce", according to Professor Stuart Cunningham, Chair of the Expert Working Group.

The report argues that the pay-off in a strong skills integration approach result is a team that harvests good ideas and generates more valuable innovations.

It also supports other analyses into work trends, including AlphaBeta’s review of 4.2 million job advertisements in the last three years. It found a 212% increase in jobs demanding digital literacy, a 158% rise in jobs demanding critical thinking and a 65% jump in jobs demanding creativity.

“Highly innovative organisations interviewed for this report focus strongly on acquiring and developing the broad skills they need to be innovative,” said the report.

“They recognise that attitudes, cultural fit with the organisation, and ‘cleverness’ or ‘emotional intelligence’ are as important, if not more important, than technical skills requirements.

“As well as relevant technical (professional) skills, candidates also need to possess non-technical skills, such as analytic and critical thinking, problem solving, social or cultural knowledge, creativity, leadership, communication and people skills."

The report added that larger companies can invest more in specialised staff and achieve a skills mix through assembled teams. However, start-ups need leaders with broad skills and can add additional skills variety through contractors.

It also argues that formal education does not provide an adequate skills basis for the rest of a person’s working life.

“Individuals and organisations need continual skills development, while universities and other teaching institutions need to teach more broadly across disciplines, covering transferable skills alongside specialist knowledge,” said the report.

“Highly innovative organisations provide considerable training and encourage self-directed learning and other forms of continuous development. Especially in areas where skills are outdated very quickly, organisations focus on learning abilities and more fundamental skills.

“Diversity in its various forms—including skills diversity—is critical in all innovative organisations. The need for skills diversity is based on the realisation that much innovation happens at the intersection of different disciplines and ways of thinking about problems.

“Innovative organisations do not rely on new people simply being ‘work ready’. Leaders in these companies are especially aware of the need to future-proof against the increasing commoditisation of technical skills. Job development and rotation are important to develop a whole-of-organisation mindset.”