Training for the digital economy – a survey of research
A ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is underway with the disruptive impacts of technology affecting change in workplaces and having significant implications for employment and training, particularly the demand for specific skills and capabilities.
A raft of new research is examining how advanced technologies and business-model innovation are more disruptive than the changes that have taken place during previous periods of technological and economic change.
And, at the centre of much of this research is a debate about the extent to which automation and artificial intelligence will impact demand for certain jobs and skills.
This has serious implications for Australia’s migration program – largely based on the skills the nation needs – as well as for recent migrants and ordinary Australians.
A lot of the research suggests disruptive technologies are influencing the demand for skills and capabilities in many occupations, with declines seen in demand for some skills linked to routine tasks.
The same research shows a growth in demand for knowledge and skills linked to the development of the digital economy and a trend in which disruptive technologies are changing the nature of some existing jobs by adding tasks such as problem-solving and collaboration; and thus, creating the need for additional skills and knowledge.
Most studies also predict the acceleration of digitalisation and the consequent demand for digital knowledge, skills and capabilities.
It seems that while some skills, and the education and training that sustains them, will be rendered obsolete, the demand for digital skills and capabilities is expected to rise sharply, requiring education and training providers to adjust program offerings to meet this demand.
Specialist technology-related skills are vital to disruptive technologies, especially in information technology and advanced manufacturing, which seek employees from a range of engineering and IT backgrounds.
Meanwhile, however, some employer groups are also emphasizing the importance of generic non-technical skills and competencies such as the team work, creativity and problem-solving actually needed to deploy technologies effectively in workplaces.
There seems to be consensus among technology innovators and employers on the need to enhance skill development for disruptive technology but there is not yet consensus about the particular skill needed and how these should be taught.
One view is that the impetus to train for the use of disruptive technology is coming from the students themselves and not industry.
Drone technology, for instance, is now one of the most popular VET courses.
Employers have also expressed concern about reduced resourcing, organisational changes and policy uncertainty, combined with the limitations of training packages in the technology training sector. There were also concerns about difficulties in finding public or private providers with the capacity to provide education and training in specific disruptive technologies.
A survey of research into training for disruptive technology has yielded some themes:
Besides developing technical skills and knowledge relevant to disruptive technologies, it is equally important to enhance the development of ‘generic’ or soft skills, as these are essential for preparing workers to be flexible and to cope with the rapid changes in the future workplace as a result of disruptive technologies.
The disruptive nature of some advanced technologies has implications for the demand for skills, course content, and the knowledge and skills of a future workforce, all of which have implications for the planning, offerings and delivery of training.
Disruptive technology, particularly digitalisation, is eroding the traditional boundaries between jobs. Recent moves towards developing cross-industry units, skill sets and qualifications, and their adoption across multiple industries, will help to address this. This approach needs to be accelerated.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist