Another article in this issue looks at a recently published NCVER report on digital skills “and the capacity of the VET system to effectively meet this growing need.”

In this article we focus on digital technologies again through the latest report from Sean Gallagher, the Director of Swinburne University’s Centre for the New Workforce.

This issue isn’t new, though

Issues around the rapidly emerging digital economy have been on the radar for a while now. In 2016 a team from the CSIRO produced a report for TAFE Queensland. The Australian industry Group – AiG – were on the same band wagon in their 2018 paper “Developing the workforce for a digital future: addressing critical issues and planning for action.”

Transforming the workforce for this and other new challenges was a much vaunted topic at the October meeting in Melbourne of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics We highlighted that meeting in an article last year.

Why has Swinburne focused on this issue?

Basically, it is because digital technologies are “disrupting and displacing human labour” and so “the workers of today and tomorrow face uncertainty about job security.” The report therefore says:

“It is imperative that educators, policy makers and employers think carefully about how to prepare workers for the new future of work and take action before it’s too late.”

We’ll get to what they propose shortly, but what did they find through a survey of 1,000 Australian workers in which they asked them “about their attitudes to work, their perceptions about how work is changing, and how they are preparing for the future.” The survey found that 1 in 3 view digital and technology skills as the most important skillset of the future.

The up and downsides of what these 1000 workers think

The downside is that 1 in 2 are fearful of losing their jobs because of artificial intelligence and automation. The same proportion (1 in 2) also lack confidence in their ability to prepare for the future of work, and 56% believe that work in five years will require skills they currently lack.

There is an upside though, because 59% accept that it is their responsibility to prepare themselves for this new work and 3 in 4 are motivated to learn new skills in the next 12 months.

38% prefer learning on the job to other learning formats, “including through formal credentialed education, micro-credentials and online courses.” The study also had another interesting finding: That was “the more digitally disrupted their industry, the more workers prefer to learn on the job.” This suggests we need more learning integrated work, with learning taken away from the campus and provided in the context of a disrupted work environment.

Some solutions?

To address the way work will change as a result of the digital future and the “disruptive and dynamic environments” it concludes three things are required:

  • Workers’ growing recognition of the importance of their social competencies
  • The rising importance of tacit knowledge, and
  • The imperative of integrating learning with work.

At the bottom of this is some good, basic digital training, too.

Real solutions will mean that:

“Education providers and employers must build on their traditional but often disconnected roles in educating and training workers, and start coming together in partnerships across Australia with the leadership and support of government.”

New approaches to learning will also be needed, the report says. These approaches will focus on focus on “developing learning workers, integrating learning into work, and reimagining accreditation.”

Governments will need foster partnerships between employers and educators. Education providers will have to look at ways to integrate learning into work and employers will need to become ‘learning organisations’ that invest in their workforces by embedding learning in the workplaces. And individual learners? Well, they have to “embrace continuous self-directed learning, collaborate and push boundaries.”

Maybe the most important issue to address is whether our current VET and broader tertiary education policies, approaches and practices are up to the challenge? As Sean points out:

“Simply adding digital skills to a traditional education is not enough to succeed in the digital economy. Learning has to be re-imagined for the emerging futures of work.”

So maybe the answer is ‘Quite possibly not!’

And finally

Take a look at the Centre’s website at Swinburne Uni.