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Study shows industry workforce is unprepared for demands of the digital age

New research has found that most employers are unprepared for the digital future of work and risk being left behind.

The RMIT study examined demand and supply for digital skills in Australia – especially in the sectors of transport and logistics and public safety and correctional services – as well as a broader survey of other industries.

Associate Professor Victor Gekara led the team of researchers from RMIT University’s College of Business in compiling the Skilling the Australian workforce for the digital economy report for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

Gekara said the nature of Australian industry was changing rapidly as global competitive pressures grew, leading to rapid and extensive workplace transformation.

“Despite this reality, the adoption of digital technology across many of the organisations we studied was gradual and restricted, rather than rapid and comprehensive,” he said. “This is concerning.”

He said this lack of preparedness was usually due to cost considerations, over-reliance on the open market to prepare the workforce or just pure complacency.

The report calls for a comprehensive Australian national digital skills framework, similar to the Australian Core Skills Framework for numeracy and literacy skills, as a sustainable approach to meeting demand.

“This would assist employers to identify digital skills gaps and help training providers to develop targeted training programs,” Gekara said.

The report revealed that many employers lack confidence in the capacity of the VET system, in its current form, to effectively develop the digital skills required for the emerging, highly digitalised economy.

“In the current situation where the majority of digital skills training units are elective, it is very possible for someone to undertake entire qualifications with little, if any, digital skills training,” Gekara said.

Furthermore, the report revealed uncertainty in industry about the extent of government policy intervention to ensure that digital skills in Australia were adequately developed.

The report also called for government and industry to work together more closely with the VET sector to ensure future workplace skills are guaranteed for the Australian economy.

“The only way to have an effective and sustainable system for developing these kinds of skills is when you have employers committed to invest in training efforts and working closely with training providers to identify need, design programs and monitor their application under a strong relevant national policy,” Gekara said.

The research team included RMIT’s Professor Alemayehu Molla, Associate Professor Darryn Snell and Dr Stan Karanasios, in partnership with Ms Amanda Thomas of Australian Industry Standards.

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