‘Enormous’ skills shift needed

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The government needs to invest in and support an “enormous” skill shift to help Australians adapt to the future of work, a new Google-commissioned report has found.

The report, produced by AlphaBeta, found that Australian education providers will need to alter their teaching models and skills on offer, with significant government support required to do this successfully.

To keep pace with technological change and adapt to new skills needed to complement the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence and automation, Australia will need to double its total investment in education and training. The report suggests the average Australian will increase learning by a third across their lifetime.

“Australia must shift its thinking from education and learning being delivered only through traditional models such as university or TAFE,” AlphaBeta director Dr Andrew Charlton said. “For most people, the extra learning we are talking about will need to occur through on-the-job training and flexible short courses.”

The report analysed recent changes in more than 300 jobs, 2,000 work tasks and more than 500 skills that were required to complete the tasks. It found that there will need to be large amounts of reskilling and upskilling to meet the needs of the future of work, with skills that complement new technologies needed rather than those that compete with them.

“This data has significant implications, on everything from curriculums and the need for ‘human’ skills through to the effect on those attempting to return to work after a few years off, and of course on Australia’s national productivity,” Dr Charlton said.

“It is not the case that we all need to learn how to code to have a job in the future – but the report shows all jobs are changing, and no single skill set will future proof us.”

The need to adapt to the future of work will put education in the spotlight, with the government needing to make skills a priority, create more flexible education and training opportunities and adjust funding and certification models.

“Dealing well with skills shifts will require significant national reform. The challenge is substantial, and business as usual is not an option. Governments need to ensure funding and accreditation systems provide the right incentives for the necessary shift towards learning flexibly and later in life,” the report said.

“A massive skill shift is required to prepare Australia’s workforce for the automation age. We need to change what, when and how we learn to master the growing unpredictability of work. This has consequences for everyone in Australia, and governments and education providers must take the lead in driving reform.”

The federal government also needs to provide an overall framework for the skill shift, and make sure existing funding frameworks encourage lifelong support and ensure a “funding neutrality” between vocational training providers and universities.

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