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Adaptability and learning skills:


As demand for skills is constantly adapting to new technologies and job requirements, people will also need to enhance their ability to adapt to new situations and acquire new skills. As the world of work becomes more flexible, workers are expected to take more responsibility for their skills development.

Some of the ways in which industry need workers to be adaptable include:

  • showing awareness of changes in the industry
  • showing resilience and embracing change
  • being adaptable in a changing industry, changing environments and changing markets
  • adapting to new technologies and new ways of doing business
  • showing a proficiency and willingness to learn
  • being engaged in career development and planning
  • maintaining skill relevancy, upskilling and multi-skilling
  • responding to situations with flexibility and open-mindedness
  • showing innovation and creativity
  • being entrepreneurial.

COVID-19 impact

The reviewed literature emphasises the adaptability, flexibility and learning skills demonstrated by workforce due to the rapid digital transformation that has occurred within industries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples include:

There have been a number of businesses that have adapted their operations and products to assist with the COVID-19 health response. The Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources has showcased some of these, primarily manufacturing, businesses.

Industries and their workforces providing essential services have been required to be innovative and adaptive to change due to government health measures, sometimes at short notice. There have been rostering changes, capacity limits, and additional hygiene requirements for the majority of industries as they have needed to retain provision of onsite labour or in-person services. Critical industries and occupations have varied between the states and territories, but have generally included the Health, Public Safety, Utilities, Retail (essential), Transport, Agriculture, Aquaculture, Education, Mining, Manufacturing (major), particularly Food and Pharmaceuticals, and Information and Communications Technology sectors that relate to telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media services.

Skills Urgency: Transforming Australia’s Workplaces reports that respondents to the survey, which focussed specifically on the skill needs and workforce development plans of businesses as they ramped up their activity, indicated they have a growing need for soft skills, such as problem solving, adaptability, creativity, and initiative. The employers surveyed representing a mix of industry sectors including Manufacturing, Construction, Services and Mining, and the demand for soft skills had increased substantially for occupational categories including Managers, Professionals, Sales Workers, Technicians and Trade Workers, and Clerical and Administrative workers.

Industry skills needs

Australian respondents to the LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Report 2021 ranked resilience and adaptability at number one in the top ten most important skills. The report found that across the countries surveyed, resilience and digital fluency skills were ranked in either the first or second places.

The 2020 Future of Jobs Report based on the results of the 2020 edition of the Future of Jobs survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF) asked employers to identify emerging skills within their organisation. For Australia’s country profile, there were three adaptability and learning skills that were identified as in high demand.

  • Active learning and learning strategies (ranked 2)
  • Emotional intelligence (ranked 6)
  • Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility (ranked 8).

Some specific examples of adaptability skills that industries have identified as important include:

  • Emotional intelligence, identified by the following industries:
    • Corrections and Public Safety
    • Children’s Education and Care
    • Dental
    • Government
    • Rail
    • Technicians Support Services
  • Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, identified by the following industries:
    • Animal Care and Management
    • Children’s Education and Care
    • Corrections and Public Safety
    • Government
    • Printing and Graphic Arts
    • Technicians Support Services
    • Water
  • Self management, identified by the following industries:
    • Corrections
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers
    • Children’s Education and Care
    • Corrections.


    Internet job postings

    Internet job vacancy postings that contained requests for adaptability skills were examined for occupational trends. This includes process improvement, change management, problem solving and creativity. The chart below compares the percentage of internet job postings in each occupation (ANZSCO Major Group) that requested adaptability skills.

    Internet job postings that requested adaptability skills, by occupation (2018-21) 

    Source: Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight™ Real-time Labor Market Information tool.

    Adaptability skills were most often requested for managerial and professional positions, and least often for labourers, machinery operators and drivers.

    The following graphic shows examples of occupations where adaptability skills are highly requested, and some examples of the types of requests employers are making for those in these occupations.

    When asking for adaptability skills from potential employees, postings often ask for the ability to cope with or lead change, as well as learning quickly on the job. The rate of change in many industries is likely one reason for these requests.

    Case study

    Corrections and Public Safety

    The work environment in the Correctional Services sector is very diverse, and those working within the sector occupy a range of roles in prisons, juvenile and immigrant detention, parole services, correctional administration, and management.

    The Corrections IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook identifies the three main adaptability related skills ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility’ and ‘self-management’ as essential skills for the Correctional Services workforce. This is highlighted in the following quotes taken from the industry outlook:

    The Corrections workforce need to manage increasingly large populations of offenders and provide individualised support. This requires them to have higher-order skills in communication, critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, victim awareness, relationship management, and self-management planning.

    Although trained to deal with stressful situations, staff rarely receive formal/accredited training relating to looking after their own mental health and building resilience to handle stressful situations over prolonged periods.

    The Corrections workforce needs to have the appropriate skills and understanding of offenders with a cognitive impairment to be able to support them in the prison environment. The workforce needs to understand prisoner patterns of thoughts and behaviour to de-escalate stressful situations and engage effectively with them.

    Additionally, the challenges and opportunities listed in the Correctional Services Workforce Insights highlights the three main adaptability skills in the following quotes:

    • professionalisation and changing skills needs, including in communication, critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, victim awareness, relationship management and self- management planning.
    • more requirements for staff to have ‘soft’ skills, with staff needing cognitive skills and emotional intelligence to build rapport and sympathy with offenders to communicate effectively and resolve or de-escalate conflicts.

    Public Safety industry comprises police, fire and rescue services, maritime rescue, emergency services and emergency management agencies, Defence, and intelligence organisations, including associated administrative and support functions. The Police sector workforce is engaged in a range of activities including crime prevention, emergency and non-emergency assistance and response, regulatory and licencing enforcement. Police also often engage in community programs and engagement activities.

    The Public Safety IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook identifies ‘resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility’ as essential skills for the Police sector workforce, highlighted in the following quote:

    The ability to move flexibly from one role to another and similarly from a specific set of duties to others is becoming more important. A focus on a resilient and adaptive workforce that can respond to any context remains a key priority. The welfare of police is also of paramount importance; therefore a focus on resilience and wellbeing will continue to be maintained.

    The Government Response to the inquiry report ‘The People Behind 000: Mental Health of Our First Responders’ acknowledges the importance of resilience and stress tolerance, supporting in principle the committee recommendation committee recommends that compulsory first responder mental health awareness training, including safety plans, be implemented in every first responder organisation across Australia. The Response includes examples of initiatives funded by the Australian Government, such as:

    Development of the National Police Memorial Co portal, which will educate and build resilience in police officers in the area of social, emotional and psychological health

    An evidence-based program designed by the Canadian Mental Health Commission aimed at improving individual and organisational resilience and reducing stigma associated with mental health.

    The Response also states:

    First responder organisations are familiar with the high-risk nature of first responder work and must consider and implement strategies to minimise risks to psychological health, including building a positive workplace culture and providing appropriate mental health training to staff and managers.


    Updated: 29 Mar 2022
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