A number of the presentations at the recent and virtual ‘No frills’ conference focused on the modern worker, skills needs and mismatches.
The ‘No frills’ conference program and presentations can be accessed here
The presentations and where to find them
The first is a presentation by Kristy Merrick from the Business Council of Australia, which talks about a guide the BCA has developed (and an associated video presentation by BCA’s CEO Jennifer Westacott) describing what employers are looking for in the modern worker. The key messages are that: “Functional literacy, numeracy and digital skills are pre-requisites for Australian workers” as well as personal values and a range of capabilities that are analytical, digital, behavioural and people oriented. You know, the generic stuff!
A second, by Pi-Shen Seet from Edith Cowan University (and others from Flinders University), looks at the implications of the technological disruption arising from Industry 4.0 for VET. It talks about technological advancement and the changing nature of work but, in particular, that it is more about the changing nature of existing jobs and the expanding range of tasks requiring additional skills and knowledge. Again, these are focused not only on specialist technology related skills, but particularly on important non-technical generic skills and a need for continual and lifelong learning, and regular upskilling.
The third, by Geethani Nair, Sharyn Hooper, David Provest, Kevin Harris and Matt Wynn-Jones from TAFE NSW and the Australian Information Industry Association (aiia) looks specifically at skill mismatches, shortages and gaps in the Information Technology sector. It points to the problem of an increasing demand for high level ICT workers, the supply of workers that are employment ready and their retention. They also reported a problem with a lack of agility by VET and poor levels of completion and employment outcomes for ICT VET graduates. The authors suggest that solutions need to cater for small to medium companies, regional areas and that there need to be good pathways, including into higher education. They also point out that “vendor specific credentials are important but not critical.” Solutions include the use of higher apprenticeships (and we have considered these before too!), micro-credentials and, importantly, “industry-integrated authentic problem-based learning.”
Finally, let’s look at what the Victorian industry skills survey is saying. This is summarised in a presentation by Anthony Frosh of the Wallis Consulting Group. It found that in 2018, when the survey was conducted, close to two thirds of Victorian employers were experiencing recruitment challenges and there was no substantial difference between metro and non-metro areas, but most likely to be reported by large and medium-sized employers. The difficulties in finding people with the right skills and qualifications were greatest in manufacturing and least for financial and insurance services.
Finding people with the right skills and qualifications was the biggest recruitment issue, and “over a third of all employers report difficulties in finding job ready candidates.” In terms of current staff, around a quarter of employers reported challenges in training staff to keep skills up to date and building leadership skills. Keeping pace with advancing technology was also reported by 22% of the employers surveyed.
In terms of skill gaps, most employers (88%) reported they have the skills needed today, but around a quarter felt they would have gaps in 12 months or so. For those that do have skill gaps, the effects on their businesses tend to be medium to large, and result primarily in additional workload for other staff, increased operating costs, inability to meet customer needs and poorer quality of service. To overcome skills gaps around half of the employers surveyed use a mixture of recruitment and training. Others use either recruitment, or training, and some even do nothing at all. If the skills really are currently lacking, firms prefer to use recruitment to address them, but if the skill gaps are anticipated then a mixture of recruitment and training is used.