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Michael McQueen: The future of work, skills needs


Michael McQueen is looking forward to helping delegates better understand where future opportunities lie at the IQA conference this week. McQueen discusses the trends to be embraced, the traps and mistakes to be avoided, and the practical game plans businesses in the quarrying industry and in other industries will have to implement in order to be successful in a disruptive future.

Michael McQueen is a multi-award-winning speaker, trend forecaster and bestselling author of nine books, including The “New” Rules of Engagement, Winning the Battle for Relevance, Momentum: How to Build it, Keep it and Get it Back, How to Prepare Now for What’s Next, and The New Now. With clients as diverse as KPMG, Cisco, Pepsi, BlueScope, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Hilton Hotel group, Optus, Dow Chemicals, OPSM and MYOB, he has assisted some of the world’s most famous brands with navigating disruption and maintaining momentum.

Since 2004, McQueen has addressed more than half a million people across five continents and has shared the international conference circuit with the likes of Bill Gates, Dr John Maxwell and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. He is a previous Australian Keynote Speaker of the Year and has been inducted into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame.

In tune with the IQA annual conference’s theme of ReThinking the Future, McQueen will discuss the future of work and skills requirements for the quarrying industry. 

Michael McQueen is looking forward to helping delegates better understand where future opportunities lie.

What is the key message that you want to convey to the audience at the forthcoming IQA conference?

You can’t outrun the future if you don’t see if coming. Every business and industry is facing what I call a “perfect storm of disruption and upheaval”. To face that storm, you’ll need to be agile and adaptable, and you’ll need to think about the options open to you now to start planning for rapid change.

You’ve talked extensively about how Australian business and industry has undergone disruption and upheaval. Ignoring COVID-19 and the Global Financial Crisis, what have been some of the major disruptions and upheavals in Australian business in the past decade?

We’re going to see robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) disrupt a range of professions that have assumed they would be immune to being automated, eg legal services, accounting, and banking and finance. 

Competitors such as Square and Afterpay – which weren’t even on the banking and finance sector’s radar a few years ago – are offering the types of finance and loan packages that banks used to offer. I’m currently looking at blockchain, from a smart contracts perspective. Central banks are now going to trade in blockchain and cryptocurrency. The gaming industry is working with state governments to develop specific cashcards that will be compatible with currencies used by online gaming sites. The way we conduct business and transact money is already changing, so our accounting and pay systems will have to adapt to that.

To succeed, businesses will need to be across the entire tech world.

In your presentation Preparing Now for What’s Next, you talk of the four forms that disruption will take in the 2020s, particularly the impacts of automation robotics, AI and AR. Can you elaborate on what these four forms of disruption will mean for industries and workers?

The four forms of disruption are about the acceleration of wide scale automation and technology in unusual ways. For instance, Facebook is introducing Smart Glasses with Ray Ban – so all of the workforce will have the potential to wear glasses that contain data/information relayed straight to the glasses. Technology is suddenly impacting on industries in ways that they could never have imagined.

Another disruption is the empowerment of stakeholders and clients. Tomorrow’s stakeholders and clients will have access to more information than ever before – and above all, they will have the potential to control brands and agendas. This is what I describe as the democratisation of influence or the impact of personalisations – it means the stakeholder/client experience will matter more than ever before and people will expect information that is more specific to their needs. Everything from medication to nutrition will become more personalised.

Consequently, businesses will be operating in communities where everyone has a voice – and organisations need to be aware of how they are viewed by their communities because of an empowered marketplace. This is particularly important for quarries in relation to their licence to operate. Smart organisations will understand that they will have to empathise with their stakeholders in a tangible way – that is, seeing what it’s like for the stakeholder to deal with the business, so the business can innovate in ways that will service the stakeholder.

What part do Millennials and Gen Z have to play in redefining norms and consumer expectations in this decade? Will Gen X and Baby Boomers still have important roles going forward?

Millennials are the largest generation cohort in history and they possess 35 to 45 per cent of discretionary spending power now. Millennials and Gen Z will determine the nature of communications disruption. In fact, Gen Z is entering the workforce now and is quite different from Gen Y, which had its own attributes. Gen Z is the generation that will kill emails. For them, it’s all about Facebook Messenger and Zoom. Just how Gen Z thinks is refreshing, interesting and different, and that has a whole set of ramifications for how businesses traditionally operate and communicate and engage with their employees. Every institution has to think about how it is going to be relevant to those emerging generations now.

The role for older generations – from a mentoring and advisory perspective – will be critical. If you want to get a message to a Gen Y or Gen Z person, what tone do you use? The use of emojis will become more commonplace in our language. Some of the common emojis that Gen Y and Gen Z use are very different in meaning to what people think they do.

For Millennials, video will be quite important because the content they connect to is memorable. They’re not used to copious amount of information and detail. Video will be the way we have to engage with employees. Companies now are using LinkedIN and TikTok to engage with new and potential staff rather than CVs.

What are some of the culture and mindset traps that companies fall into that drive them to obsolescence?

I think it’s that sense that somehow you’ve made it. There’s a phrase: “The moment you think you’ve made it, you’ve past it.” The moment that you get into management mode rather than growth mode is when you lose your edge. You’re not hungry but humble. There’s also a lack of humility when you think you have all the answers and you can’t deal with things that challenge the status quo.

What are some of the proven and practical challenges for businesses to keep pace with change and stay relevant?

The importance of revolution, not evolution. A danger for any organisation or industry is that change is just about solely continuous improvement. It’s never enough to keep pace when everything is moving around us. Good organisations need to step back and assess what is working for them and what they may need to change.

How does a quarrying and extractive business ensure it maintains currency and significance, particularly with its local community?

The key is to keep your finger on the pulse. In my presentation, I’ll mention a couple of tools. Reputology – or online reputation management – is recommended because you can set up a search function that enables you to respond more quickly if your quarry/business is getting a mention in online forums or in the media. The importance of social media and keeping your finger on the pulse is vital.

Has COVID-19 – a social disruptor in its own right – accelerated many of the disruptions anticipated in this decade? Has it impeded some expected disruptions?

The Internet of Things is now an assumed thing, it’s so embedded in things we assume it’s slowed. It’s just more implicit in our organisations and our devices than we realise. COVID has sped up a whole stack of trends and other experts like Loren Padelford have remarked that COVID has acted like a time machine, it’s actually brought technology forward by many years – from 2034 to 2020. Things we didn’t expect would happen for five to seven years are happening now, like the growing momentum in corporates around climate change. Part of the reality of COVID is that unless you have your basic needs met, then thinking five to 30 years out now is just almost inconceivable.

What most excites you personally about some of the disruptions that lie ahead?

There are so many elements of technology that I find exciting. Robotic surgery is amazing, it’s so exciting what is happening in that area. The surgeon can use VR goggles to perform surgery remotely. There are likely to be a lot of roles and professions that will become automated in the years ahead but what happens to those people that automation will replace? Some of the earliest uses for autonomous machinery was in mining. At a time when large scale mining operations are trying to get staff, automation will makes things a whole lot easier.

There is a fraction of the number of people that used to work in mines and quarries now. We’ll see people change industries rather than stay to be retrained. They may use their skills in different areas. We will likely see change accelerate in the next couple of years. It’s naïve to think that with such wholesale change there wouldn’t be an impact on people’s lives.•

Michael McQueen will deliver his keynote presentation at the IQA annual conference, NEX, Newcastle, NSW on Wednesday 30 March, 2022. 

For more information about speaking opportunities, his online courses and his books, visit

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