PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggest that, pre-COVID-19, “Australia was already in a prolonged productivity slump.”

They believe that’s set to worsen unless the nation upskills – and fast!

What’s happened?

Their paper, “Where next for skills? How business-led upskilling can reboot Australia,” published in August this year, is summarised through the link just above. COVID-19 has challenged everything: for example, migration – an important source of skilled workers – has ceased, at least temporarily, and lots of people have lost their jobs.

However, they suggest that COVID has also triggered increased technological change and a move to digitalisation and automation. And:

“To meet the demands of this accelerated technological change, with the added complication of border closures, business needs to shift its focus to reskilling and upskilling employees.”

Inaction, PwC say, is not an option because, when employees were asked if their employer had provided them with skills training in the past 12 months, a hefty 72% said no!

What needs to happen?

Business, PwC says, needs to take the lead, and businesses need to see skills training as an investment not an expense. But government support is needed too, they suggest. This includes business and government working together to help individuals to upgrade their skills in a way that not only protects them against the rising tide of automation, but also allows them to progress through their career with a lifetime of learning. OK, this is a message we have heard and highlighted before in VDC News. Upskilling is not always the way, though, and reskilling can be a better way to think for many as some don’t just need deeper skills in some areas. They may need new and broader skills to give them new options. In addition, PwC notes that:

 “The skills organisations need today and in the future – creativity, problem solving, an understanding of how digital technology can be used – are a moving target.”

Another approach that PwC suggests is delivering a national credentialing system that embraces shorter-form credentials: and they see micro-credentialing as an obvious area where government and industry can partner to achieve better outcomes. OK, that’s been part of the VET story for some time now too! VDC News has covered this a few times as well, for example here. But PwC are also talking about digitising learning pathways “to enable workers to learn fast, and to apply their learning faster.” So, it’s not only about gaining new knowledge, it’s about having the opportunity to apply that knowledge quickly in the workplace.

This upskilling, PwC believes, is also important in improving the workplace by embedding it in the workplace and – through that process – improving workplace culture. In fact:

“Forty-one percent of CEOs surveyed by PwC said their upskilling program has been ‘very effective’ in creating a stronger corporate culture and engaging employees.”

It’s also helped improve productivity and assisted in “talent acquisition and retention,” PwC says.

What’s government’s role?

In addition to those we have already discussed, including using micro-credentials to promote incremental and more just-in-time learning, Government also has to help by targeting at-risk work roles. This is likely an important part of the work of the National Skills Commission. Government also has a role in giving thought to the nature of the skilled migration program in the post-COVID world and how that might operate better. This includes – in PwC’s view – thinking “more dynamically about how Australia classifies occupations to capture the skills required for the digital world” so that migration is not driven so heavily by occupational shortages but rather more by skills shortages. In addition, PwC suggests:

“Clearer and more strategic distinctions are needed between the objectives of temporary versus permanent skilled migration programs. The migration framework could be changed to include more, rather than fewer, visa pathways.”

It should include “visa pathways tailored to desired skill sets and industry needs.”

Downloading the report

You can access the full report here.

The reference list for this report also has a number of PwC and other publications that readers may care to follow up. These include a couple we have highlighted in VDC News from NCVER and PwC.