What skills do we need as technology changes the future of work?

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

With the rise in technological change over the past 20 to 30 years, the nature of work was always going to change. We live in a global economy with businesses now able to sell their products, find employees, and target new markets all over the world.

This technology or digital revolution as it’s often called will force change on us all. No doubt the type of work we do is changing, but what does this mean for the way we train people?

It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, we have a skills shortage in many industries, and on the other, there’s this growing sense that many jobs will actually disappear and be replaced by robots. What does it all mean for training future employees?

The digital revolution will shape work

In my view, the change is still some way off. Sure, technology is moving fast, but as I’ve written before, there are still huge employment gaps that vocational education and training (VET) will need to fill. I cannot see that declining significantly in the next 15 years. If anything, it will grow.

However, in saying that, it doesn’t pay for the training industry to put our heads in the sand and ignore the shifts in the economy and society as a whole. There’s no doubt that technology has already changed many VET qualifications. Take a mechanic for example. Not that long ago, a huge part of the training for the role was ‘mechanical’ in nature, but today there’s a large IT based component as vehicles become more and more about firmware updates rather than a simple oil change. That’s just one example of a trend that’s already changing the way we train people for future employment. VET must adapt in terms of style and type of training if it is to meet the needs of industry. 

Our future workers need different skills

The shift in education is where I think the biggest challenge lies, from the schooling system to post-school education. While there’s always going to be a place for the basics, the way we provide education and training will need to evolve.

Concepts such as self-paced learning will have a big role to play. More and more content for learning will be online and the need for the traditional classroom model will become less prevalent. The traditional class environment itself presents a roadblock in that it’s heavily structured. When students move into the workforce, they quickly find that they’ve moved into one that is heavily unstructured in nature.

Another area that I see as being important, particularly in VET, is preparing future workers for an employment market that is far more volatile than we’ve seen in the previous 50 years. There’s an enormous need to focus on soft skills, i.e. those skills that prepare learners for the future work environment. For example, we often receive feedback from employers that graduates today need more focus on the ability to socialise and interact with those around them, i.e. those skills that enable them to function cohesively and effectively in the workspace. Today’s graduate is likely to have 10 or more different jobs/career shifts in their working lives. Our ability to adapt to change will fast become the number one requirement for employers. 

Regulators need to adapt too

The training sector has a role to play, but so too does government. It’s no secret that our regulatory bodies have been caught out by the speed at which technology changes the marketplace. By the time a government committee discusses a challenge like the changing nature of work and hands down a report, the concept has often already moved ahead and evolved in such a way that the findings are no longer relevant!

This means areas like the curriculum in our schools are slow to adapt. And if we continue to fall behind then there’s a real chance that our international competitiveness will too. We need to work together with government to find faster solutions to ensure the future of work is a strong one for all Australians.