It is a great pleasure to be here today for the La Trobe International Roadshow focused on “Futureproofing Your Career”.
As many of you here would know, Australia and China share a long history of engagement in education.
In past years, we have seen more than 200,000 Chinese students studying in Australia.
With China as Australia’s largest source of international students and China previously ranked as the number two destination for Australian students studying overseas, it is education that forms an important part of the people to people links that lie at the heart of our relationship.
This year, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, our education relationship has been hit hard. However, the Australian Government, state governments and education providers remain committed to the international students sector. We look forward to international students returning to Australia in the post COVID-19 environment and the ongoing provision of Australia’s world-class education to students around the globe.
Today, I would like to emphasise that whilst the experience Chinese students have when studying with Australian universities is important, equally critical is what comes after they graduate.
Indeed, employability and graduate outcomes remain paramount for Chinese students when they choose Australia as a destination for their education. And this is for very good reason.
For a number of years now, over 80 percent of Chinese students annually have returned home at the completion of their studies.
They face an increasingly competitive job market, made all the more challenging now by the impact of COVID-19 on the local and global economy.
So it is now more important than ever that students think about the future needs of the workforce in China – and the world – and how they can advance their own careers to meet those needs, and shape good outcomes, going forward.
Indeed, in a much more challenging global market in the years ahead, the workforce in China will need flexible and adaptable leaders.
In China’s rapidly evolving economy, where the services and technology sectors continue to grow (and where services will likely account for over 70 per cent of GDP by 2030), employers will need staff who can change roles and responsibilities, and their approach to tasks, quickly.
I believe the new jobs of tomorrow will not only require the technical skills offered in university degrees in Australia today, but also will require a potent mix of technical skills and interpersonal aptitudes. Jobs involving creativity, complex judgement, advanced reasoning, social interaction, innovation, and emotional intelligence are likely to grow in the decades ahead, and to complement and stand the test of advances in automation and artificial intelligence.
Australian universities such as La Trobe are well placed to help develop the leaders of the future, given they offer curricula focused on interdisciplinary breadth which promotes knowledge across a variety of areas, together with critical thinking and creative problem solving.
This emphasis on critical thinking and creative problem solving is also key to another attribute sought in the future workplace – that is innovation and a growth mindset.
Here in China, there is an intense focus on high tech and innovation. The sectors promoted in China include green energy, new materials technology, new biotech and medical devices, advanced manufacturing, and robotics and AI machine learning amongst others.
To continue to develop, all these sectors will involve repeat trial and error and will need people who “think outside the box” and who have a growth mindset, meaning they embrace challenges and view failure as an opportunity to learn, and something that is “part of the process.”
This willingness and readiness to fail may seem counterintuitive, and is often challenging in many cultures, not just in Chinese culture, but the best employees and entrepreneurs in the future will be those that embrace these qualities and take the risks necessary to succeed.
As Jack Ma himself has said, “failure or success, the experience is a form of success in itself”.
As the Australian Consul-General in Chengdu, I actively look for team members who can excel past the confines of their job descriptions and deal effectively with a rapidly changing environment. I encourage my team to take the initiative and to look for upcoming challenges early and to find creative ways to solve them. When faced with challenges and crises, I am willing to consider calculated risks in the solutions proposed by my team members, and encourage staff who overcome these challenges with a continuous learning mindset.
While technical expertise is important, I also want a mix of soft skills that make the workplace effective, fair and strong, where people are happy and proud. So good interpersonal, persuasion, negotiation, teamwork and leadership skills are crucial for me. Team members who value diversity, inclusion, fairness and positive change stand out for me.
Another attribute which will no doubt be desirable in the future workplace in China is a global understanding of the world.
As China continues to grow in importance on the world stage, and seeks new markets for its goods, services and expanded investment opportunities, the country will need a more internationalised local workforce. That is, more people with international experience and cross-cultural skills who can adapt, localise and promote goods and services in different marketplaces, and provide informed strategic advice on offshore investments.
That is where the experience of an international education, like the one offered by La Trobe and other Australian institutions, is so valuable. Australia is a successful multicultural nation, and amongst the most inclusive and tolerant countries in the world.
It offers students the chance to develop that high degree of intercultural awareness which will be so important to Chinese companies as they increase their offshore presence.
The final attribute I’d like to raise is ethical responsibility and integrity. The workplace of the future will need individuals to have high ethical standards. For example, while striving for data-driven outcomes to increase profits for businesses, the future worker must also ensure the algorithms they produce for software don’t adversely manipulate customer behaviour or appeal to consumers’ worst instincts. The future workplace should encourage workers to make decisions that improve and benefit society beyond just profits alone.
Living in Australia or coming in contact with Australians, and understanding our values will put you in good stead to learn and manage these ethical issues.
So, in conclusion, as students watching today look to their future job in China, or elsewhere in the world, it’s important to be adaptable and flexible, to be innovative and not be afraid of failure, to be emotionally intelligent and get along well with others, to be internationally-aware, and to be ethnically-minded. This way, you’d be able to equip yourselves in an ever changing world。
By doing some or all of these things, I have no doubt you will be ready for the future of work, and futureproof your own career.