Education // Workforce | Skills

Education is key for future workforce in age of digital disruption

Education is essential for the future workforce in the age of digital disruption, an expert panel has told a CEDA audience in Melbourne at the launch event for CEDA’s major research report for 2015, Australia’s future workforce?

Deakin University Vice-Chancellor and report contributor, Professor Jane den Hollander, said that while it appears there is an absence of national vision, or strategy for dealing with a machine driven future, one thing we do know is that successful nations today are well educated and skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). 

With STEM is essential for Australia’s future success, Professor Hollander said that to remain competitive in an increasingly global market, universities today should worry less about what the actual jobs are and more about equipping students to be “thoughtful, entrepreneurial and forward looking.” 


“It seems to me in an age of vast quantities of information, instantly available, outdated almost as instantly, the ability to deal nimbly with complex and often ambiguous knowledge is far more important than the accumulation of facts which can be regurgitated,” she said.

“Emergent leadership and teamwork, entrepreneurship, intercultural communication, emotional intelligence, on the job experience; these are the skills the employers of the future will be looking for.

“Content will become a given and there will be an expectation from your employers that you will update your knowledge base yourself, when you need it. 

“In a constantly connected world, graduates will also need improved cultural awareness and global contacts and skills essential for that marketplace in the cloud. “In this second machine age, the evolution of cognitive computing has moved into areas previously believed to be beyond the reach of technology. As smart machines take over routine manufacturing and probably many of the process jobs that currently exist in our world, there will be an increasing demand for skills that machines are not good at – thinking skills that can’t be codified.” 

Telstra Chief Scientist and report contributor, Dr Hugh Bradlow, said that empathy will be the driving force of the future workforce, differentiating us from machines and more important than creativity. However in an era where jobs will be lost to machine learning, Dr Bradlow also emphasised the importance of STEM. 

“We need STEM as an underlying discipline. People have often said to me well if machines are going to do everything, why do we need science and technology? And that is completely missing the point,” he said. 

“If you don’t understand the underlying principles of how things work when they go wrong and they will, then you will be unable to deal with it…unable to fix it. “

We’ve got to treat STEM as a form of literacy, exactly the same as reading and writing. There should be no kid who goes out of our schools without an understanding of the scientific method. 

“We need to enable our populations to make informed decisions about scientific developments like climate change, based on an understanding on how science works.” 

IBISWorld Founder and Chairman, and report contributor, Phil Ruthven AM said that digital disruption will cause a revolution of worker freedom, with the coming generations working more than 50 years and experiencing a number of different careers due to technology shifts and developments. 

Mr Ruthven said that these advances are driving the need for change for governments and employers to change their thinking. 

“The workforce itself needs to be freer than it is and needs to escape the shackles of the industrial age thinking. The industrial aged thinking of course is you get paid by inputs, not outputs. That’s ridiculous in this day and age, being paid by outputs is the way the world is starting to move whether you’re a part time worker, full time worker, casual, or contractor, it doesn’t matter,” he said. 

Mr Ruthven also said that the future worker would experience:

  • No bondage by businesses, bosses or unions
  • The gradual demise of the concept of an employee
  • Rise of contractual relationships; a worker being a business
  • Emergence of advisers and mentors for worker contracts
  • Rise of business ownership
  • No discrimination on any basis
  • Increased part-time or casual work
  • Flexible working where practical
  • New industries and occupations
  • Working in a borderless world
  • Knowledge worker concept
  • Lifetime education and training
  • Rising wages and salaries 


To read more about the future of Australia’s workforce, read or download the report, Australia’s future workforce? here.

Read the media release: More than five million Aussie jobs gone in 10 to 15 years here.