Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

The Road Ahead

Monday, April 9 2018

While so many of the issues that come across my desk, and that of our members no doubt, relate to the ‘here and now’ it is important there is some consideration of the longer-term, strategic issues and how they may impact tertiary education and training over the coming years.

Yes, despite the noise we must still look ahead!

Two reports released over the last week or so did just that.

The first was a paper from the Australian Industry Group, Developing the Workforce for a Digital Future. It provides a solid overview of the impacts of digital technologies for the future workforce.

The paper identifies the significance of what are now widely recognised as enterprise or 21st century skills, that will increasingly be important as more routine tasks are automated and the capacity to innovate and respond to rapidly changing business environments escalates.

Undoubtedly, the impact of digital technologies will be greater in some industries and occupations. But equally, it is clear that all workers will need to be able to engage with digital technologies.

This, of course, has big impacts for our sector given its pivotal role in skilling the workforce for this ‘new world of work’. But a big challenge the report points out is that the skills of the future are difficult to identify given the pace of change in the digital economy. What this means is to ensure that when these skills are identified “the skills development systems adjust sufficiently fast to match new skill demands.”

This to me impacts across a number of key areas. Governments’ often rely on skills lists to identify the qualifications they will support through either subsidies or loans. A rapidly changing workforce makes these lists difficult. This escalates the importance of industry engagement and the need for employer intelligence on what jobs and skills are required.

The changes also impact our qualifications structures, as the changing skills may impact rather than replace jobs. That means workers and new entrants to the labour market will need a modular approach to skills development. That means skills sets and topping up your qualifications and experience. The growth in skills sets and non-accredited training is already evidence of this trend.

I think it also highlights the importance of maintaining and enhancing our diverse, responsive tertiary education and training provider network. Certainly, it doesn’t mean a retreat that limits student and industry choice.

If the challenges for our sector ‘thrown up’ by digital transformation aren’t enough, a paper by the NCVER that considered the growth of the workforce through to 2024 contains some positive but challenging projections.

The paper, Future job openings for new entrants by industry and occupation details the outcomes of modelling of Australia’s workforce over the period 2017-24. A figure that caught my attention is that by 2024 more than a third of the workforce will be aged 55 years plus. Considering the skills impact of digital transformation highlighted in the Ai Group paper, this ageing of the workforce is likely to pose particular challenges and opportunities for providers. Will our sector have the workforce and strategies to provide these skills and to an increasingly diverse and ageing student cohort? Will governments have the capacity to consider supporting skills sets and not just qualifications?

The paper projects, not unexpectedly, strong growth in professional occupations where the impacts of technology will see demand for more highly skilled workers and in the human services sector. The number one growth occupation over the period to 2024 is Midwifery and Nursing Professionals, that will grow by some 65,000 jobs.

But rounding out the top 10 is Tertiary Education Teachers, that will grow by 36,000 jobs. On an annual percentage basis, it has the highest expected occupational growth over the period to 2024, at 4.4%. This compares to 1.8% across all occupations cited in the paper.

As the paper highlights, this is partly due to expected growth in international students in Australia. One of the consequences of the spectacular growth in international education we don’t hear too much about.

These two papers, then, highlight some significant challenges and opportunities over the next few years. The digital transformation of our economy and industry means our sector has to be able to respond to what are still uncertain skill needs, in a timely way and to a more diverse and ageing workforce. At the same time the growth in the sector means we need to give more attention to ensuring our own workforce has the digital literacy, enterprise and other skills and knowledge to take advantage of the real opportunities that lay ahead of us.

The federal Opposition has flagged its intention to conduct a review of the post-secondary education in Australia should it be elected to government. This review, should it come to pass, and any other proposed reforms of the sector, need to give consideration to the needs of our tertiary education and training workforce.

On a final note, last week saw the Turnbull Government appoint new members to the Higher Education Standards panel. Minister Birmingham congratulated the new appointees, including Professor Ian O’Connor AC, Vice Chancellor of Griffith University, who will take on the role of Chair, replacing Professor Peter Shergold AC. Professor O’Connor will be joined by new members, Deputy Chair Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, Dr Don Owers AM, Adrienne Nieuwenhuis, Sadie Heckenberg and Professor Kent Anderson as well as re-appointed members the Hon Phil Honeywood and Dr Krystal Evans.

ACPET looks forward to working with the panel on the reform of higher education. Both Professor Kerri-Lee Krause and Dr Don Owers AM are well known to us and played a leading role in our recent ACPET/COPHE Higher Education symposium.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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