The VET sector provides Australians with the skills they need to participate in the labour market and Australia’s industries with the workers they need to drive the national economy. However, as digital technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, business models and employment models are being disrupted and the capability of machines is increasing, enabling them to perform ever more complex tasks. These changes are already visible and will become more pervasive as digital technology continues to advance.
The VET Era shows that the VET sector is already playing a critical role in delivering skills to the Australian economy, with current graduations correlating strongly with job vacancies. The research has also shown us that the sector is increasingly providing the ‘finish’ to post-secondary education as shown by increased enrolments by Bachelor Degree holders in VET, particularly with TAFEs.
These are undoubtedly positive findings for the sector, however there is also a need for evolution and refocusing within the sector to ensure it keeps pace with current and future economic transitions and maintains Australia’s competitiveness globally.
In relation to future skilling demand, the report shows that while STEM and digital literacy skills will continue to increase in importance and need to be considered as core skills, communication skills and the ability to interact and apply social skills in the future economy may be of even more importance. Analysis of recent trends in skilling demand shows that it is this set of skills that is growing at the fastest rate, with STEM skills experiencing moderate growth. These findings are consistent with other recent studies into the future workforce and aligns with current and ongoing growth in the service component of the economy.
Interestingly the research has found that the majority of the Australian workforce is not currently employed in occupations that require high levels of communication or STEM skills, despite these two occupation clusters currently growing at above average rates. This shows the shift in focus that needs to occur across government, industry and the educational sector and the current and ongoing shift within the labour market.
In addition to this shift in skilling areas the research reveals an upward trend in the level of qualifications required in the workforce. There is an increasing requirement for higher level qualifications and a flattening of demand in lower level qualifications over the long term. It is anticipated that automation and disruption will drive a continuation of this trend.
The changing nature of the VET market is also revealed as it moves from a traditional base of school leavers toward a lifelong learning model and increasing diversity in the age and requirements of the student cohort. The sector will need to respond to this shift and ensure that its approach to training delivery is cognisant of this change. Importantly, funding models that support the sector will also need to be adjusted to take account of these changes.
From a sector design perspective challenges confronting the current design of training packages were highlighted. Specifically, the need for this process to be more responsive to workplace practices that are evolving at increasingly rapid rates. Additionally, the quality of the sector remains a major concern and the need to ensure student and employer confidence in the sector is as critical as ever. The rapid growth in the provider side of the sector was identified as a key component of this issue.
The sector itself must view technological advancement as an opportunity to enhance its approach to delivering skills to the economy. Greater use of digital technology in the delivery of VET is important to give students exposure to, and confidence with, technology as it is used in the workplace. Furthermore, when used well, digital technology can provide a richer learning environment for students, promoting engagement, deeper learning and improved workplace readiness.
The research has revealed a view that teachers will continue to play a key role in the delivery of future skills. This role though will be increasingly shaped by the digital tools that enable that delivery and therefore teachers will need to be proficient in the use of technology. The sector needs to acknowledge this and ensure that today’s workforce is supported to build the capability required to deliver new and innovative teaching practices that respond to tomorrow’s workforce skill needs.
These are both the challenges and opportunities confronting the sector within the future digital economy and the ability of the sector to embrace the opportunities presented and tackle the challenges highlighted is a critical process in Australia’s ongoing transition.
Reeson, A., Mason, C., Sanderson, T., Bratanova, A., & Hajkowicz, S. (2016). The VET Era : Equipping Australia’s Workforce for the Future Digital Economy. CSIRO, Brisbane.