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Passionista or Uberslashie? The future of talent (according to some)….


Australian employers should shift from their “myopic” focus on hiring specialists to embrace workers with broad-ranging skills, according to a researcher and author.

Experience in areas including humanities, social sciences, economics and graphic design have all become increasingly important as every industry becomes transformed by the web, Paul X. McCarthy told HR Daily.

“The web is enabling people and actually requiring people to have more general skills across a range of things,” he said.

“If you take a long view of history, there’s been a cycle in skills. There was the idea of the Renaissance Man, who was skilled in the science and technology of the day, but also the arts – Leonardo being the epitome of the Renaissance Man.

“As we moved into the Industrial Revolution and with the advent of manufacturing, labour became more specialised, we all became a bit more urbanised and functional specialisation became a thing.”

McCarthy said the most successful companies are starting to realise that this specialisation does not best position them for ease of transition as technology continues to evolve.

For his book Online Gravity, he used LinkedIn to explore the talent signatures of the world’s leading tech companies, including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

“Using data science and the web you can see inside companies for the first time. Now you can’t hide anymore, so you can get a sense of the scale of any company and the kind of skills that those companies have,” he said.

“Fifteen per cent of Apple staff have visual arts, social science or communications degrees. I grew up thinking of them as a computer company, but it turns out they’ve got seven times the number of people with those sort of degrees as IBM does,” he said.

McCarthy said that text-messaging startup Whatsapp had just 55 staff when it was purchased by Facebook for $19 billion.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened in history before, and when they sold I think they had about 500 million users worldwide,” he said.

He said Whatsapp had only supported this user base through the “flexibility and ambidexterity” of its workforce – one of whom had the triple responsibilities of handling German, Spanish and Android translation.

He said employers need to embrace STEAM skills, which acknowledge the crucial role of arts along with the previously trumpeted STEM skills of science, technology, engineering and maths.

“I’d be looking for more artists, more computer scientists, more statisticians and certainly more immigrants. If you look at today’s tech giants in the US, they’re all founded by immigrants to the US,” McCarthy said.

In Australia, he said employers seem fixated on hiring candidates who have experience in the same job title with a competitor organisation.

“That seems to be the most important thing. It seems so myopic,” he said.

McCarthy said organisations should look for talent in several new forms, including:•T-Shape – People who have one deep specialisation, which is often technology-based. The T at the top represents a broad range of skills, so they have an understanding and experience across multiple functions;

•Pi-Shape – These employees have two deep specialisations, for example training in economics and computer science, then a broad range of skills across other areas;

•Passionistas – Workers who use their tech skills to explore their dreams on a different scale, such as computer science graduate Carter Cleveland, who developed Artsy, an online gallery of all the art in the world;

•Uberslashies – These people have increasingly hybrid roles, and include professionals who ‘timeslice’ or maybe have a professional job during the day and an artistic pursuit by night. “The web enables you to do more things – you can engage with communities more easily now than you could previously,” said McCarthy; and

•XYZ Combinations – People with highly complementary skills working together. McCarthy noted, for example, it is now accepted that multiple founder startup companies generally do better than solo founder companies.

McCarthy will speak on this topic at Vivid Ideas’ Future of Work conference in Sydney on 3 June.

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