The federally funded Digital Skills Organisation has called for an overhaul of digital training in Australia to meet the country’s growing talent gap in a new discussion paper.
Digital Skills Organisation (DSO) chief executive officer Patrick Kidd says that Australia has an annual requirement of 60,000 new digital workers over the next five years. In that timespan, the paper also cites research that expects almost 90 per cent of Australian workers to need digital skills.
However, Mr Kidd said the country is falling short given that in 2019 there were only 7,000 new IT graduates and the completion of fewer than 3,000 Cert IV in ICT training. He also noted that of the roughly 86,000 apprentices undertaken annually, only 600 are in the ICT sector.
The discussion paper, titled ‘Towards a new model for the development of digital skills’, released on Thursday presents a new model for digital skills training to help bring the training sector up to date. DSO’s proposed skills-based model includes three components digital pathways, digital skills standards, and digital centres of excellence.
Mr Kidd said that although many of the training packages in the vocational education training (VET) sector have their merits, they can be too bureaucratised by focusing on training for a specific occupation rather than providing digital skills that are transferable across different jobs and contexts.
“Digital pathways try to simplify the language that describes what the digital environment looks like so that people can then engage with it. When you talk to medium sized or smaller organisations, they struggle to be able to articulate what the skills they need are. It helps produce a codified simple language about what their needs are,” Mr Kidd said.
“What you tend to find happening with the vocational education and training sector (VET) is they have training packages using the language of ICT that made 10 years ago, but it doesn’t make sense now. Another important point about the education system is that there isn’t a linkage between schools, universities, and the VET sector, as well as private training providers.
He also noted that the language of government used to classify jobs does not include a number of technology jobs, which makes them more difficult to fill.
Further, the digital skills standards should set the level of performance that companies require. Mr Kidd said that learners must be assessed against a standard that gives employer confidence in their abilities.
When it comes to bridging the digital skills gap, Mr Kidd believes that beyond developing training capabilities there needs to be more sharing of information and practices between the education system, industry, and the government. The centres of excellence should bring together experienced registered training organisations for digital skills to help share and scale learning material.
“I’m very impressed by Victoria, they’ve got a concept called the network of TAFE, where the TAFEs are expected to reinforce each other. That’s the type of methodology we really need to be going down if we’re serious about getting after this strategic problem,” Mr Kidd said.
“These RTOs tend to work on their own, we need to have a simplified process that enables industry to engage and collaborate with the training sector.”
Reacting to federal budget delivered on Tuesday, Mr Kidd welcomed the tax concessions for small and medium sized businesses adopting digital technologies but also highlighted the scale of the problem.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the size of the problem, of the 3.7 million businesses in Australia 1.4 million are sole traders. Furthermore, one in five small and medium sized enterprises have low to no digital skills,” Mr Kidd said.
“It’s a really important investment, but we now need to make it really easy for those companies to be able to access the right resources and that we’re measuring the progress. We also need to think about women, mature aged, and indigenous Australians in tech.
“Everyone should think that they have a potential role in the technology industry. Also, you don’t have to come from a STEM background, you can be a designer, an artist, or a program manager. We absolutely have to change the narrative that sits around the tech sector if we’re going to open up the bucket of talent that’s out there.”
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