Workforce | Skills

Preparing Australian workers for the job market of the future

With the number of unskilled roles shrinking and underemployment on the rise, Workskil Australia Chief Executive Officer, Nicole Dwyer, told a CEDA audience in Perth that a renewed focus on training workers in areas of need could significantly improve employment outcomes.

“The number of unskilled roles is shrinking due to automation, technological disruption and offshoring…and those who don’t have the skills will find it harder and harder to get a job,” she said.

“In regional WA, we can see that there is a lot of low-skilled jobs growth, but the challenge is how do we fill the gap. 

“A greater focus on apprenticeships and traineeships would greatly improve outcomes in these areas.” 

Alongside low-skilled roles in fields such as truck driving, earthmoving and administration, Ms Dwyer said that healthcare, social services and accommodation and food services will be major areas of employment growth.

“Our challenge here is getting those more traditional blue-collar workers ready for those new areas of growth,” she said.

Picking up on this theme, Western Australia Department of Training and Workforce Development Director General, Anne Driscoll, spoke about the role of the VET sector in preparing Australians for the future of work.

Ms Driscoll spoke about what the Business Council of Australia has called a “cultural and funding bias against vocational education and training” that is driven by a view of the VET sector as “a second-class system to universities.”

In reality, Ms Driscoll said, "the VET sector, along with universities, is crucial to our future, as it helps us constantly transition to ensure our workforce is globally competitive as jobs and technologies change.” 

Ms Driscoll suggested that the VET sector’s flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of industry will make it a crucial part of the higher education landscape as the demands of students and employers change.

“If Western Australia is to be a world leader in adaptive and efficient education systems for the emerging needs of industry and the community, we need to read the play and keep repositioning ourselves both in the content of our education and in the form that it takes.”

Taking a broader perspective on this issue, CPA Australia Executive General Manager: Education, Dr. Simon Eassom, explored the fundamental ways that technology is reshaping the world of work. 

“We are moving into an era of exponentiality and the speed of change is making a lot of people really stressed,” he said.

Using the example of the manufacturing supply chain, Dr Eassom showed how software and automation are rapidly making traditional jobs obsolete. 

“Businesses are moving away from people organisations, where you follow processes that are supported by technology. What you are now seeing is the growth of technology businesses – businesses that are driving processes supported by fewer and fewer people,” he said.

Echoing Ms Driscoll’s argument, Dr Eassom said that “the future of work is about skills and not just about qualifications and knowledge…recruitment is very much going to change around finding talent.”

Dr Eassom said that this new way of thinking about work presents problems for everyone. “It is a challenge for industry because there is a shortage of qualified people for jobs, a challenge for professionals because they are under constant pressure…and a challenge for academic institutions to have the skills and people they need to talk about what industry demands, and keep pace with technology and the requirements of industry,” he said.

Skills of the Modern Age Managing Director, Nate Sturcke, spoke about what successful companies and startups can teach us about preparing for the future of work. 

Mr Sturcke drew from professional experience and data collected by his firm to address the way companies can improve their readiness for changes in technology and the economy. 

“Organisations need to be thinking about how to adapt their culture, hiring processes, and development processes to support future work readiness. All organisations have a duty to their people to take the front foot when it comes to this conversation,” he said. 

Drawing on the same data, Mr Sturcke said that many Australians are concerned about how technology will affect their career. “Not surprisingly, three quarters of people felt that their job was at risk of being replaced by technology or automation. However, only 15 per cent of people thought that we were doing enough as a nation to prepare ourselves and respond to that threat.”  

Echoing Dr Eassom’s thoughts on the importance of looking beyond qualifications, Mr Sturcke said that “it is much less about the sort of skills that we are providing people and more about the culture, the organisation, the mindsets and the philosophies that we are providing to allow them to adapt to an uncertain future.”

Event presentations

Nicole Dwyer, Workskil Australia PDF | MP3

Anne Driscoll, WA Department of Training and Workforce Development PDF | MP3

Dr Simon Eassom, CPA Australia PDF | MP3

Nate Sturcke, Skills of the Modern Age PDF | MP3

Moderated discussion MP3

Delegate handout PDF