Preparing for the World of Work

To what extent does tertiary training and education actually prepare our youth for the world of work?

This question reflects an emerging challenge for government as many employers are questioning the work-readiness of Australian graduates with certificates, diplomas and degrees.

While most TAFE and University graduates receive a traditional and widely accepted credential to enable them to commence a career, it is believed that the majority of graduates have not been adequately prepared for work.

Attention is needed to address this deficiency at all levels of vocational training, TAFE and to supplement this with guidance from employers seeking to secure a stable, effective and balanced workforce.

To address the discrepancy between qualification and work-readiness, it may be expedient to require tertiary institutions to achieve mandatory targets linked to work-related competencies in order for those institutions to receive ongoing funding.

Although not all training colleges and universities have staff equipped to provide this form of training, there are sectors in the education and training environment which could collaborate with tertiary institutions to better prepare graduates.  This would not only benefit graduates but would also provide better capacity and potential for graduates to repay HECS debts.

New digital technologies are changing the way Australians live and work. Emerging technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will affect the nature and type of jobs available and the skills and capabilities required to perform both existing and new jobs. While it is difficult to anticipate precisely the scale and impact of these changes, we can be reasonably confident that the jobs of tomorrow will require new skills, while some existing skills will become obsolete.

However, it is generally accepted that the pace of change is acceleratingPredictions vary, but the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that in coming decades approximately 14 per cent of current jobs are at high risk of automation, while another 32 per cent are likely to be affected by significant modifications, changing how jobs are carried out.  Non-routine, cognitive jobs, involving an emphasis on non-technical skills, are likely to be the most resilient in the face of automation. The World Economic Forum has highlighted the importance of non-technical skills such as creative thinking, originality, initiative, analytical thinking, innovation and complex problem solving in Australia’s future skills needs.

For decades, vocational education and training (VET) has been one of the key pillars of Australia’s economic success story. Generations of tradespeople and skilled workers have successfully developed their skills and knowledge in a practical work-based learning environment.

Vocational education today remains an effective and efficient way of imparting the skills needed for employment. If anything, it’s likely that work-based learning models will be more important in the future as technology-driven changes to the ‘way we do things’ need to be quickly transmitted across industries and around workplaces. Our fast-moving world will need flexible and applied ways of learning, so people can lay strong foundations for their careers and then build further skills and knowledge in order to participate in new and changing industries.

The current Commonwealth government has recognised the need to equip new and existing workforces to meet these changes and have just released a review by The Hon. Stephen Joyce of the current Vocational Education system in Australia.

With under-employment and unemployment arising from organisations pursuing their manufacturing and customer support activities in overseas economies where labour costs are lower, employers looking for talent will increasingly be facing the intersection of young graduates and more mature unemployed or under-employed individuals in their 40s and 50s.

With the latter group having acquired many of the skills essential to contribute positively in the world of work and accepting that employment between $60,000 and $100,000 per year is far more attractive than unemployment benefits, domestic competition for administrative and technical work is arising from unexpected quarters.

Many of those who have been in the world of work for 20 or more years have developed both soft skills and have technical know-how across many industries and in many employment settings which make them valuable and potentially more stable, humble and less ambitious and upwardly mobile than young graduates.

It is likely that work-based learning models will be more important in the future as technology-driven changes to the ‘way we do things’ need to be quickly transmitted across industries and around workplaces. Our fast-moving world will need flexible and applied ways of learning, so people can lay strong foundations for their careers and then build further skills and knowledge in order to participate in new and changing industries.