The Fourth Industrial Revolution and VET – The case of Australia

Much discussion has occurred about the impact that technological disruption will have on the Australian workforce. A recent paper by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), Skilling for tomorrow (Payton 2017), examines the various ways by which the growth in technological advance is reshaping the labour market, workforce and jobs.Despite uncertainty about the scale and nature of the effect, there is a growing consensus that Australia’s tertiary education system needs to change to meet the requirements of a future labour force focused on innovation and creativity. This research examines the relationship between emerging ─ or disruptive ─ technologies and the skills required, with a focus on the anticipated necessary skills from the perspective of both the innovators (technology producers) and industry (technology users). In this research the term ‘disruptive technologies’ refers to large-scale technology/market changes occurring through technological advances such as automation, advanced robotics and virtualisation.

The research finds that disruptive technologies are influencing the demand for both technical and soft skills in many occupations, with some skills in decline and others in higher demand. The impacts of disruptive technologies on firms are likely to differ according to firm size, stage of development, and their capability and capacity to innovate. The effects will also differ depending on the purpose for which the disruptive technologies have been introduced.

Key messages

The demand for digital skills is expected to rise. Larger firms use in-house training to help fill gaps, including those identified in vocational education and training (VET) courses. Smaller firms, however, tend to hire workers with the required skill set, demonstrating the importance of the VET and higher education sectors in adequately skilling workers for digital disruption.
Specialist technology-related skills are, unsurprisingly, important to disruptive technologies. However, generic non-technical skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving, continuous learning and creativity are also integral to the uptake and implementation of disruptive technologies in the workplace.

Firms in this study view university graduates with technology-related skills, particularly higher-level technological skills, as more valuable than employees with VET qualifications. This probably reflects the sectors in which the firms are concentrated.

Several barriers prevent the VET sector from better developing the skills required for emerging, disruptive technologies. These impediments include:
– the lack of strong integration between the VET and higher education sectors. Stronger integration would assist in the development of both the theoretical knowledge and skills (technical and soft) that workers need
– resourcing constraints and frequent restructuring in the VET sector, hampering the sectors ability to plan and execute the changes required to prepare itself and students for disruptive technologies
– the limitations of training packages, impeding the flexibility of training to respond to rapidly changing disruptive technologies.

The Industry 4.0 Industry Reference Committee (IRC), recently announced, will help to ensure that vocational education provides students with the future-focused skills they will need as a consequence of increased automation and digitalisation in the workplace, demonstrating that some steps are already being made to address some of the issues highlighted in this research.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the implications of technological disruption for Australian VET


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