The world of work is changing in ways that make it increasingly difficult for a large proportion of the workforce to gain and maintain consistent employment. More than ever, existing and future workers need to prepare for the changing skills requirements of jobs. With advancements in technology, the skills profiles within jobs, and the jobs themselves, are rapidly evolving, a situation that places huge expectations on national vocational education and training (VET) systems in servicing and responding to the rapidly changing needs of employers, as well as the job aspirations of students.
- International practice is moving to establish and maintain a more dynamic inventory of job-specific skills, with these organised, classified and interrelated by means of a practical skills taxonomy, and set within a coherent skills information framework. Such a categorisation is more detailed than qualifications and occupational titles; these are poor proxies and become outdated by comparison with the real-time skills needed and performed in workplaces. Well-integrated and well-organised skills intelligence is becoming increasingly useful to multiple end-users for many different purposes.
- Policies to reduce skills imbalances and prepare for future skills in demand can be more successful if they are underpinned by accurate and timely information about skills needs. A good practice approach to this issue is a comprehensive skills framework, into which a variety of data are integrated, including up-to-date information directly sourced from workers and employers, complemented by, for example, online job-vacancy data analyses.
This is a multifaceted public policy issue: workers need contemporary and relevant skills to gain employment and transferable skills to traverse the labour market and so maintain their employment; employers need a highly capable and adaptable workforce; and governments seek to ensure, by means of coherent public policy and efficient investment, effective relationships between students, training providers and employers.
So how are other nations addressing the issue of ensuring their workforces possess the skills required for the future? What are other countries or regions doing about skills descriptions, analyses and frameworks to accommodate these skills: how are they approaching the challenge of identifying discrete job skills; of building and maintaining a dynamic inventory of such skills; and of assembling these into a well-organised and practical skills taxonomy, one where interrelated skills are classified and integrated? And, practically how is all of this information collated for the betterment of training? Further, how are skills at different levels to be recognised within such skills frameworks, how do clusters or aggregates of such skills relate to any named occupations, and how can training content and qualifications be responsively adjusted to drive a dynamic training system.
In Australia, standardised occupational skills data for informing training is mainly found in training packages, foundation skills frameworks and in occupational standards in classification systems such as ANZSCO (Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations). These repositories, particularly the latter, have potentially slower information-update cycles and risk being unable to keep abreast of the rapidly changing employment and occupational requirements.
This report provides a summary overview of occupational skills information practices in selected countries and organisations, with the aim of highlighting the approaches adopted by each to the design, content, update and provision of skills information. In addition, it showcases good practice in ensuring such information is current and accessible.
We conducted a desktop analysis of the skills information frameworks and systems that were readily available on public websites, along with the associated documentation on these sites. The frameworks and systems identified were mainly government or intergovernmental agency websites (for example, OECD, European Commission). The search particularly focused on the level of detail of skills information within occupations, its currency and accuracy in regard to describing ‘on-job workplace reality’, and evidence of this skilling intelligence being used to update vocational training in a timely manner.
Thirteen cases were studied in detail. These came from the following countries, agencies and organisations: United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), European Commission, Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training), Skills for the Information Age (SFIA) Foundation, and Burning Glass Technologies. This report summarises the major themes to emerge, with greater detail provided in the support document accompanying this report.
Of the organisations and countries, four cases stood out. These were the Occupational Information Network Program, O*NET, from the United States; Singapore’s Skills Framework; the classification of European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations (ESCO); and an information technology (IT) framework developed by an industry body (SFIA Foundation). Other approaches of merit came from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. The main features of the identified exemplar organisations are summarised below, while an overview on each follows.
Characteristics of successful skills information initiatives
A number of features were common to the successful skills information initiatives, including strong governance structures, processes to ensure timely and up-to-date data acquisition, logical structures and taxonomies of skills descriptions, and public access to such skills information.
In the good practice skills information systems, the government took the lead, but with stakeholder collaboration and buy-in. Often a dedicated skills agency, the skills information body is linked with an industry organisation or sector-specific councils and has regional representation. Such agencies support skills information initiatives, systems and programs.
Identification and sourcing of data
Every data source has inherent strengths and weaknesses, meaning that drawing from a variety of sources is desirable. These sources include worker, employer and industry surveys, job vacancy and labour market information (LMI), and econometric exercises.
The O*NET system provided a good practice example of how to link detailed skills information to the nation’s standard occupation classification system. To ensure currency, new or ‘modified’ occupations are added in an expanded O*NET version of the classification system.
Access to and utility of skills information
Several skills information initiatives aim to act as ‘first stop or one stop websites’, that is, information portals catering for a range of stakeholders. For example, Cedefop envisions skills information access as comprising an interactive platform, supporting data and features that respond to the needs of different types of users — policy-makers, training or career practitioners or experts in skills needs anticipation.
Usefulness of skills information for curriculum developers and trainers
While many skills information models and frameworks aim to address this issue, this study was less successful in identifying clear examples of organisations where such skills information rapidly informs training, thus leading to modifications and updating. Worth mentioning here is the Ofsted process in the UK whereby a training provider is assessed on how well the leadership and management team successfully incorporate labour market information into the planning, establishment and management of curriculum and learning programs.
The findings from the desktop survey highlighted the following significant issues:
- The examples of good practice frameworks demonstrate that occupational skills analyses encapsulate more than merely an analysis of qualifications and occupational titles, given that these can represent poor proxies for the actual discrete skills required and performed in diverse workplaces.
- Policies to reduce skills imbalances and prepare for future in-demand skills can only be successful if they are underpinned by accurate and timely information about skills needs, which in turn is supported by a comprehensive content model, established from a diversity of data sources, including sourcing information directly from workers and employers via regular and frequent surveys, as well as from online-vacancy data analyses.
- International best practice typically includes a dedicated skills agency, under the auspices of a national government, whose role is to coordinate skills information services. An important element of the design and construction of a skills information framework is consultation and cooperation with multiple stakeholders.
- Rethinking how occupational skills information could be analysed, stored and made accessible could provide an opportunity to simplify the structure and update of training products.