Changing work: VET is vital in filling the gap

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

We live in a time when the nature of work is ever changing. The pace of this change makes it difficult for many areas of the economy to keep up, especially as technology shifts the very nature of what we call ‘work’.   

For many Australians, these changes can seem daunting, and it's incumbent upon our education sector to respond quickly, and efficiently, by supporting both businesses and employees to navigate a changing world.  

At the 2019 VERTO Employee Conference, I listened to our keynote speaker, Dr Keith Suter, discussing the future view of our economy and how the education sector, VET included, needs to adapt to service future business needs. It was a thought-provoking presentation, and one area that really got me thinking was the rise of the ‘gig’ economy. 

The gig is changing

The gig economy refers to those workers that are shunning the traditional 9-5 working role, in favour of gig based ‘jobs’, and it’s a great example of how technology is reshaping our workforce. The most often quoted of these is the rise of Uber and its copycat competitors; drivers can work when they want, at times that suit them, for as long as they want. 

It’s not just ride sharing; it’s happening across a range of industries, such as marketing, graphic design, sales, trades, and many more. If you had looked a few short years ago, this 'freelance' model would have been an outlier and something of a novelty. Now, it’s everywhere. 

In order to support both businesses and individuals to make the most of the opportunities and address the challenges of this new order, it’s not just the workforce that needs to adapt, it's the many structures that support it. Training, education and legislation all have a role to play, but as it stands today, many of these structures are struggling to keep up.

Traditional options being left behind

This struggle to adapt has the potential to create issues when it comes to economic growth. One thing that our future economy requires is agility, the ability to move rapidly as industry requires us to change how we are educating our workforce.

The rapid pace of change requires shorter, sharper and more focused education options that offer the right mix of theory and technical skills. Education must be lifelong and continue throughout a person's career to face ever-evolving challenges. 

Governments can’t respond to this need alone. We often see scenarios where industry requires a new solution and by the time our education sector has the opportunity to respond, the need has changed again.

This is happening across the sector; Universities are beset by the same problems. In a fast moving world, how do we keep training and skills at the level required?

VET has a role to play

It's not just a government challenge; we all have a role to play. The VET sector is well placed to respond – retraining and upskilling Australians to meet the shifting needs of our workforce. 

This is particularly true in the private sector, where we can respond quickly to changing trends and fill the skills gap as necessary. Organisations like VERTO are vital to respond to growing skill shortages and it's why keeping a balance of public and private providers is important.

Collaboration is vital 

I've talked before about the need for our public and private education providers to collaborate, share resources and help our workforce get the right mix of skills. In a world of constant disruption, this is more critical than ever. 

We need to ensure all Australians have access to the right educational opportunities across university and the VET sector. Rather than looking at them in isolation, we need to look at how the sector as a whole can provide the mix of theoretical learning and on-the-job technical skills to thrive. 

The reality is that this trend of fast paced change is going to continue. By working together across both the public and private education sectors, we are in a much better position to address the needs of industry and provide Australians with the right opportunities to keep pace with change.