Employers wouldn’t know what to do with vocational education and training (VET) grads even if they had the tech skills companies want, a report from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has found.
Around 70 percent of survey respondents in case studies used to inform NCVER’s report said they somewhat or strongly agreed their industry is affected by digital disruption, with a similar number reporting an increased demand for digital skills outside of IT departments.
But despite employers’ awareness of digitalisation’s effects on the workforce and industry, “many are not proactively developing a clear strategy for, and investing in, their future digital skills needs across their workforces,” NCVER said.
The research focused on the transport, postal and warehousing, and public administration and safety industries due to the threat poor digital adoption poses to their productivity.
The NCVER grouped employers into three categories based on their approaches to technology uptake and skills acquisition:
- Aggressive technology adoption and skills-development approach: these employers tend to pursue a wide range of strategies in their digital skills acquisition, including aggressive external recruitment and internal skills development.
- Keen technology adoption but cautious skills-development approach: these organisations undertake gradual change while ensuring that current productivity levels are not undermined. At the same time, they educate their workforce about the importance of new workplace technologies, with the aim of introducing gradual cultural change.
- Appreciation of growing need for digital skills, but no investment in skills development: this group tended to expect that newly employed recruits possess the necessary digital skills (which were mostly relatively basic digital skills).
Part of the problem, more than half of survey respondents said, was the perception that VET training inadequately equipped young, recent graduates to join the workforce with the technological know-how expected of them.
They want job candidates with an entrepreneurial and experimental approach to tech, that can also confidently use industry-specific digital technologies, while also recognising the security, societal and environmental impact of these tools.
An analysis of training packages in the sectors used as case studies might support employers’ claims that the training packages (and their graduates) don’t have the necessary digital savvy, NCVER said.
On the face of it, training packages for people looking to enter those industries indicated “a significant amount of digital training content was included” as part of the core competencies.
“However, this content is mostly pitched at low levels of basic digital literacy."
Adding insult to injury is the fact that most of these courses were offered as elective units, rather than core components.
“In sum, the training system does not accord digital skills ‘essential skills status’ (at least in these two industry sectors).”
Instead, training tending to focus on the basic application of computer devices for data capturing and processing, which NCVER said could undermine the sectors’ ability to transition to a digital economy where a more complex and nuanced approach to IT is needed across all roles and occupational levels.
However, the poor performance of VET providers could be a reflection of employers not properly articulating their needs.
Only 24 job ads out of 1708 vacancies in the case study’s sectors specifically mentioned particular digital skills, NCVER said.
“Even in job advertisements where digital skills were specifically mentioned, the level of expected application is generally vague and mostly basic.”
Ultimately though, NCVER said a multi-pronged strategy from government and industry stakeholders is needed to advance digital skills development in Australia.
It recommends the development of a national skills framework, which would be integrated into the Australian Core Skills Framework, to help coordinate stakeholder approaches.
“For their part, employers should undertake an assessment of digital skills gaps to ensure that their workforces are upskilled to meet the challenges of the emerging digital economy.
“The digital skills embedded in VET programs and in industry training packages therefore need to be revised and updated to cater for future digital skills requirements.”