Future Skilling for a Digital Economy

A new report released by NCVER, Skilling the Australian Workforce for a Digital Economy, reveals that Australian employers should be more proactive in developing digital skills for their current and future recruits in order to maintain productivity and competitiveness in the rapidly changing digital economy.

Australian Industry Standards (AIS) assisted RMIT University in developing this report by extracting data from the relevant Training Packages, helping with the study survey and arranging access to interview participants.

According to the report, technology adoption across Australian organisations is “gradual and restricted, rather than rapid and comprehensive”.  Based on their approach to technology adoption and associated skills development, the report identifies three groups of employers: the aggressive adopters and skills developers who actively pursue digital skills acquisition; the keen adopters who gradually adopt technology with cautious skills development; and finally, those who are aware of the growing need for digital skills but haven’t invested in skills development.

The lack of preparedness among industries often has to do with associated training costs, shortage of digitally competent recruits, and unrealistic expectations of being able to hire already skilled recruits.

More than half of the respondents surveyed believe that the VET system can do more to effectively develop the digital skills required for the emerging, highly digitalised economy. The majority of Units of Competency related to digital skills are elective rather than core, which means candidates can undertake a qualification and complete the training with little or no digital skills training. The content of these Units of Competency also needs to be pitched at a higher level of digital literacy.

The report outlines a comprehensive Australian Workplace Digital Skills Framework, the first of its kind in Australia. The framework has two dimensions: the first defines a digital skills category, and the second presents the level of need/performance. It assists employers to identify digital skills gaps and develop targeted training programs. The aim is to enable consistent and comprehensive identification and monitoring of digital skills demand and supply, which can accelerate skilling the Australian workforce for a digital economy.

The report recommends a closer collaboration between the VET sector and the government and industries to ensure the Australian workforce has the necessary digital skills to prepare for future workplace requirements. It suggests the Australian Government, in line with its Digital Economy Strategy, should provide targeted programs to encourage further adoption of digital technology and relevant skills development.

Around 70 per cent of the report’s survey respondents agreed that their industries are being transformed by digital transformation. The participants at AIS national Industry Skills Forums, which focused on “future skilling our people in an age of digital transformation”, similarly confirmed digital literacy as a high priority skill demand in their sectors.

The 2019 Skills Forecasts identified the recurring theme of digital literacy across the industries AIS supports. It is important to undertake an assessment of digital skills gaps and ensure the workforce is upskilled to meet future challenges of a digitalised economy. To ensure the VET system is capable of delivering the required training, it is essential to review and revise the content of Training Packages to cater for digital skills requirements and stay ahead of the game.