The report aims to identify outcomes that can shape Australia’s digital skilling system at Vocational Education and Training (VET) stakeholder level to engage a range of stakeholders in policy development and to inform later stages of the Microsoft Philanthropy digital skilling project.
GAN Australia and Microsoft Philanthropies recognise that digital transformation must be delivered within an enabling environment shaped by policies and regulations that allow for engagement with and preparedness for emerging technologies that include (but are not limited to) Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, e-commerce platforms and a range of other technological advancements.
An exploration of the Australian context for digital skills indicates that for many years, Australia has faced a significant challenge in developing, training and sustaining a digitally skilled workforce; in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this challenge has grown extensively.
To investigate how the Australian VET industry can tackle this challenge, this report has first sought to define ‘digital skills’ as not just an ability to use digital technologies, but instead as a range of capabilities that emerge from the combination of digital technology know-how with the knowledge of their impact and consequences: we term this ‘digital competence’ to reflect the need for digitally competent workforces to meet industry demand.
The impact of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ in Australia as influencing this demand for digital skills but realising this revolutionary change to work and production has been stalled in part by an inability of organisations to rapidly provide training in digital skills to their workers and maintain pace with the impact of digital transformation. Given that all people engaged in the labour market will require some form of digital competency, digital skills policies, regulations and programs will need to address three key issues – particularly several factors relating to each – which are outlined below.
The report comprises a desktop review of recent Australian literature, a survey about digital skills usage and experience, a small focus group with sector stakeholders around the key issues identified and several follow-up interviews and some case study examples of digital skilling initiatives in the VET sector.
> The digital divide and social inclusion
A focus on digital skills development must pay particular attention to the inclusion of a diverse range of vulnerable groups of Australians – including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people with disabilities, those living regionally and remotely, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and other demographic characteristics that highlight vulnerability.
Digital inclusion for excluded groups cannot be achieved by digital strategies alone and must incorporate the much broader policy, infrastructure and training delivery contexts. This report recommends that addressing digital exclusion include broader, non-digital
> Innovating skills for a digital economy
The kinds of occupations emerging to shape the future labour market and workforce contain tasks requiring digital skills but also personal skills of collaborating, communicating, being creative, being flexible and being innovative. These personal skills are also those that workers will package with their digital competencies to transfer between workplaces, industries and sectors as their careers reflect a ‘portfolio’ of experience and knowledge.
Within Australia there is ample support in literature to recommend that equipping apprentices and trainees with the packaged training and work experience that incorporates both technical and personal skills is essential to VET supplying the work-ready graduates that industry will demand.
> Skills development and jobs and skills mismatch
Despite the clear need for VET to provide industry with graduates that will be prepared for new work challenges in digitally enabled workplaces, numerous surveys and analyses of VET units of competency reflect a low level of digital competence being offered as part of teaching and learning. This is most problematic where sectors not traditionally impacted by digitalisation are now being exposed to new technologies and must adapt. Overall, there are significant implications for the development of capable Australian workforces prepared for challenging work scenarios and job descriptions.
The report also recommends the development of basic skills benchmarks across multiple sectors to ensure consistency of digital skills development across the whole Australian labour market and workforce in order to achieve stability in the system as well as support the transferability of digital competencies between workplaces, industries and sectors.
This report has considered the digital skills situation in Australia, examining key issues that create barriers to the development of Australia’s digital skills system. It has considered the role of government at national and state levels in Australia and the policy environment created by initiatives of public and private organisations, to identify good examples of collaboration at intergovernmental level, in private industry and through public-private partnerships.
An overall conclusion of this analysis is that stakeholders in the Australian digital skilling system must pay attention to issues that relate to the digital divide – particularly access. The issue of vulnerable groups missing out on access to digital technologies intersects all issues discussed. It will remain difficult to address the digital divide and ensure social inclusion with only a greater emphasis on employment, skills and training services delivered digitally. Appropriate policy responses to skill and prepare Australians for the digital labour market and digitally enabled workplaces must begin at the pre-digital stage and work to develop digital skills that become competencies.