Vocational training will fuel the workforce of the future

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

With the rise of the digital economy, our job market is changing at a rapid pace and new industries are springing up in response. Vocational Education and Training (VET) has a key role to play in our emerging industries, and in future-proofing our existing ones.

While VET has long been associated with our traditional trades, and will continue to support and grow this sector, it is also evolving to meet the demands of a digital generation - both through the types of courses on offer, and the way they are delivered.

VET increasingly important

Recent studies have shown that 9 out 10 jobs of the future will require a VET qualification and VET is now servicing a range of emerging industries, helping them grow and find qualified employees. With youth unemployment on the rise, growing these new industries is key to the future of our economy.

A whole range of courses has been developed in the last ten years, across a weird and wonderful spectrum, keeping up with the pace of change. Take an industry such as brewing, once dominated by multinationals, the rise in popularity of craft beers has reshaped the industry. And VET has powered this change, qualifying craft brewers across the country.

VET is also powering change in some of our foundational industries too. Look at health and community services, for instance; once focused on technical skills, this industry has shifted to a people-centred approach, and VET courses have responded, playing a key role in enabling this change.

It’s not just the courses themselves that have changed, it’s the way they are delivered. VET courses have moved from primarily face to face, to using an interactive model, that combines classroom and digital learning with on-the-job training to upskill young Australians in a truly agile way.

Being skills-based, VET courses are closer to the ground, and typically more connected with our industries than their university counterparts. And it’s this ability to respond to market need, quickly and efficiently, that will see VET play an increasingly important role in the future of the Australian workforce.

Reskilling workers as robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) shape our future

Robotics and AI are shaping our future, in fact, 70% of young people are now entering job roles that will be radically affected by automation over the course of their career.

While there has been some scaremongering about job losses, the reality is that we will always need people in our industries – it’s just the requirements of the jobs that will change. And it’s not a bad thing – automation brings significant opportunity for the Australian economy, predicted to be worth as much as $2.2 trillion by 2030, and only if we reskill our workforce – not retrench them.

And that is where VET comes into its own. VET is uniquely positioned to quickly upskill existing workers to respond to these changing demands. You just have to look at our mining industry, for example, where technology is changing the face of many existing roles. Workers in this sector can’t fall back on their existing qualifications to work with increasingly advanced technologies, and mining companies are beginning to work with VET providers to develop modules that will allow them to retain experienced staff while also preparing for the future.

Future proofing the VET sector is key

To ensure VET can continue to service the growing demand for new courses and reskilling of experienced employees, it is important that the sector looks to the future. In response, the VET sector is experiencing an unprecedented period of change, that will hopefully see greater resourcing and an improved model for the future.

It is important that the State Governments support the positive momentum in this space, particularly by ensuring that the sector is adequately funded and that new courses are not held up in lengthy accreditation and approval processes.

If our governments can get on board with the resourcing required, our VET sector can lead Australia into a digital future – retaining and growing jobs, fending off skills shortages, and boosting our economy.