Preparing Australia’s workforce for tomorrow

Preparing Australia’s workforce for tomorrow

Technology and innovation have transformed the world in the last 500 years. Since the turn of the 21st century, the rate of change has become faster and faster. As a result, not only has the face of business and industry been forever altered through the emergence of completely new professions, but the nature of work itself has changed.

As this technological revolution continues, how can we prepare for the future of Australia’s workforce to meet the ever-changing challenges – and opportunities – that creates? How can we help them be resilient and adaptable? How can we help them become the most sought after talent in the world?

And most importantly (and surprisingly, given the high-tech future), how can we enable the human skills that will increasingly be required?

At CeBIT Australia 2018, these issues were discussed by technology experts in a keynote panel The future of jobs. Sharing their insights were Robyn Denholm, COO of Telstra, Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President of UTS Sydney, Jordan Duffy, Co-Founder & Director of Strategy at Buckham and Duffy Consultants, Dr Jan Owen, CEO for Foundation for Young Australians, and Fiona Rose, Client Engagement Director at Jobs for NSW.

Preparing Australia's workforce discussion at CeBIT 2018

Bridging the skills gap with a future-forward education system

There’s no doubt that technology will be the biggest driver of change in the future workforce. Gartner has predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) will eliminate 1.8m jobs, but create 2.3m new ones, by 2020.  

It almost goes without saying that skills like coding will be in high demand. But according to Denholm and Owen, increased automation will also drive an increased demand for so-called “soft skills”.

So what sort of soft skills will be needed? Well, recent research reveals:

  • 181% increase of labour market entrants who can speak another language
  • Entrants to the labour market with cultural intelligence and high communication capabilities as well as innovation and digital skills, were paid an average of $9000 more than those with the tech skills alone.

To address this, Brungs believes lifelong learning is critical. However, all speakers highlighted a gap between the skills sets that Australia’s workforce needs in the future, and what’s taught in school today.

“If change is the only constant, universities need to produce students that know how to learn from and adapt to change,” Brungs said. “For starters, we need to bridge the gap between technical and creative, separating these two skill areas is not conducive to rapid change.”

Student integration to industry should also be done earlier, according to Duffy, who started his strategic consulting firm in Year 9.

He said that with the typical university degree still lasting around four years, but with jobs changing in a fraction of that time, the alliance between government, enterprise and academia needs to be strengthened in order to anticipate and meet what’s ahead.

“To prepare Australians for the future, the education system needs to be forward-looking. So we’re not always waiting for change to occur before going back to schools and re-examining the relevance of what we’re teaching,” he said.

Diversity and inclusion remain crucial to ongoing education

Being future-forward in education means understanding what tomorrow’s job seekers want so you can give them the skills they need today.

According to Brungs, 40% of UTS Sydney students don’t want to look for a job – instead, they want to create their own roles. Which is why he says education needs to become more relevant. For example, one-third of the lecturers at UTS come from actual businesses, who impart their experience to help students solve real problems faced at work.

While Brungs does think that four-year degrees will remain, because of the much-needed human interaction time that’s included, he foresees a future model in which education becomes a partnership, with responsibility shared between governments, academic institutions and students.

This was an opinion strongly shared by all panelists, who also discussed the importance of being diverse and inclusive, particularly if ongoing education is to continue in various disciplines.

“You can’t innovate if everybody is specialised in the same thing at the table. Diversity is key to the future,” said Denholm.

Diversity also means educating cross-generationally, as almost a quarter of Australia’s population will be aged 65 and over by 2050.

To be able to tap into their experience, the workforce and all its participants will need to further develop the tools and skills needed to break communication barriers between generations, and learn how to transfer knowledge between people of varying educational levels, regardless of age.

Technology enables diversity in education

With technology having an increasing impact on global work, closing educational gaps will be key to preparing Australia’s workforce of the future for the challenges and opportunities to come.

Enabled by technology, diversity and multi-generational communications will also be key in ensuring that the right knowledge gets passed on for posterity.

Technology holds unlimited opportunity for the education and other human-centric sectors.

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