Training packages may be missing the mark

There is no shortage of forecasts about how digital technology will disrupt occupations and workplaces over the next 10-20 years. Artificial intelligence (AI), big data, automation of repetitive work – drones too, as noted in the last VDC News – will reconstruct our understandings of what it means to go to work.

Consulting firm PwC, for example, recently released Workforce of the future: The competing forces shaping 2030 (42 pages). According to PwC:

‘As more individual tasks become automatable through AI and sophisticated algorithms, jobs are being redefined and re-categorised. A third of people worldwide are now worried about losing their job to automation.’

VET is crucial to the emerging world of work

New jobs will replace those lost. Many of them won’t look like anything we’re familiar with. In PwC’s reckoning, staying ahead of the changing work game means individuals

‘…will need not only to adapt to organisational change, but be willing to acquire new skills and experiences throughout their lifetime, to try new tasks and even to rethink and retrain mid-career.’

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) is leading a stocktake on how ready we are for what’s coming. True, training centred on new technologies is in the VET sector’s DNA. But a recent NCVER working paper, Developing appropriate workforce skills for Australia’s emerging digital economy (51 pages), gives an inkling our DNA is passing on underdone digital skills.

Wanted: A digital makeover for training packages

The RMIT University research team working on the NCVER project analysed digital skills components of eleven training packages. They found a misdirected training effort:

‘…training is more geared towards developing skills at the lower skills end; that is, for the basic use of computer hardware and software in processing data and information from organisational databases, as well as for online internet and web sources. This is counter to growing industry evidence of an increasing need for higher-level skills in data analytics, cyber-security, social media and mobile-related digital skills.’

Across training packages the researchers found:

‘…more digital skills content in the lower-skills occupations; that is, in operational and non-supervisory than in higher-skills occupations… [indicating] an assumption that people training for and entering higher-skill occupations already possess the necessary digital skills.’

The working paper is a mid-term project report. But these early findings suggest we need to renovate training packages to reflect digital skills needs of students and employers.

Digital skills are important, but that’s not all

Digital literacy is essential in the contemporary workforce, but not everything. As PwC notes, government and employers, and by implication the VET sector, must support workers by

‘…easing the routes to training and retraining, and encouraging and incentivising adaptability and the critical and increasingly valued skills of leadership, creativity and innovation.’

Employability skills deserve close attention too. We need to strike a smart balance, as is urged by a recent article on The Conversation website – ‘Demand for people skills is growing faster than demand for STEM skills.’

Preparing for the future of work is a long game. We all need to be active early.