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Digital skills in Australia: Policy approaches to inclusive digital skills

This is part 4 of a 5-part series. Visit part 1: Digital skills In the Australian context, part 2: The digital divide and social inclusion, and part 3: Skill development for a digitally-focused future economy.

The need for greater digital skills in all industries and fields is ever-increasing. As previous posts in this series have explored, the demand for employees with sufficient digital skills is on the rise. However, there is still a persistent gap between the education and training on offer throughout Australia and industry’s expectations regarding workers’ digital skills and technical competency.

In response to this growing need, many industry stakeholders have jumped at the opportunity to step in and help fill this digital skilling gap. While these programs and opportunities are definite positives, there is also a requirement for digital skills policy reform and government response to catch up to what industry is demanding.

Recent shifts in the wider policy environment around skills reform and training point to more positive developments on the horizon for educators and workers alike.  

Recognising the need for reform  

In 2018, the federal government commissioned an independent review of Australia’s VET sector to examine ways to deliver a skilled workforce for a stronger economy. The following year saw the release of Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System, also known as ‘the Joyce Review’. Joyce’s findings pointed to a number of reform opportunities for the federal government to action, namely:

  • Quality assurance
  • Speed of qualification development
  • Simplified funding and skills matching
  • More reliable information about careers and school pathways, and,
  • Greater access to participation by disadvantaged Australians.

In response to Joyce’s recommendations, the federal government created a system ‘architecture’ between different federal government bodies. This shift was an attempt to unify skills and training standards at a federal level, accompanied by the provision of funding at a state and territory level to manage delivery of particular skills-focused initiatives. While this updated system is a step forward, additional environmental factors – such as those brought on by the pandemic – will further complicate any future national policy reform around digital skills.

Part 2 in this series explored the persistent nature of Australia’s ‘digital divide’ in detail, particularly how it disproportionately affects disadvantaged Australia. As Australia emerges from the peak effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government will also need to lean into its role as the bridge to close the digital divide and unite all Australians in an inclusive recovery.

This position is reiterated in the recent Skills Outlook report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which explores the how the global demand for digital and transversal skills are only looking to increase. The report also reveals that lifelong learning will be the silver bullet for workers worldwide to better cope with the oncoming digital revolution.

Policy approaches to digital skills needs  

There is no one policy approach that can effectively address the dual challenges of a persistent digital divide and a general growing need for greater digital skills development in Australia. What is clear though is that any policy approach will need to focus on guiding improvements within the education and training system to better deliver the digital skills more Australians will need to thrive in the digital age.

At federal and state levels, governments have strategised a number of policy approaches to address the challenges associated with nation-wide digital inclusion. Some of these are explored below.

Digital Skills Organisation (DSO) Pilot  

In response to Joyce’s recommendation for faster qualification development, the Australian Government has established the Digital Skills Organisation (DSO) Pilot. With a mission to simplify the digital skills sector, the DSO will act to ensure that digital training meets employers’ needs throughout varying industries.

Amongst its focal points, the DSO will work to better identify skills needs, develop agile qualifications and improve the quality of training delivery and assessment. In its first pilot project, the DSO is seeking to Train 100 Data Analysts in an effort to develop an employer-led approach to the creation of course content specific to employers’ needs. It is anticipated that the DSO will work in collaboration with the National Skills Commission (NSC) and National Careers Institute (NCI) to deliver on the federal government’s wider vision to digitally upskill Australia’s workforce.

More information about the pilot can be found here: https://www.dese.gov.au/skills-organisations/digital-skills-organisation-pilot

Jobs and Education Data Infrastructure (JEDI) project  

As previous posts in this series have explored, a number of industry-led efforts have been made to better align digital skills training with real world careers. In this vein, the Australian Government’s Jobs and Education Data Infrastructure (JEDI) project is looking to apply a data science-driven approach to better deliver digital government services, particularly around the analysis of current and future labour markets, skills and education data.

Run by the NSC, the project uses data sources to identify someone’s skills as they apply to their current employment and are transferrable to future occupations. In doing so, the project aims to improve available information regarding skill transferability, along with upskilling or reskilling requirements for upcoming career opportunities.

More information about the JEDI project can be found here: https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/our-work/jobs-and-education-data-infrastructure-jedi

Federal Budget measures   

As the latest Federal Budget indicated, the federal government’s priorities are job creation and provision of support for individuals and businesses. In addition to the extra 170,000 apprenticeship places with 50 per cent wage subsidies for employers, more federal funding has also been allocated to free training places, particularly those that include digital skills.

Some of the other Digital Skills budget initiatives include:

  • $10.7 million for the Digital Skills Cadetship Trial to deliver work-based learning opportunities for in-demand digital jobs
  • $43.8 million for the Expansion of Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund to fund additional innovative projects to quickly improve the quality and quantity of cyber security professionals in Australia
  • $24.7 million over six years for the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Graduates Program to attract and train home-grown, job-ready AI specialists through competitive national scholarships
  • $22.6 million over six years for Next Generation Emerging Technology Graduates Program that will provide more than 200 competitive national scholarships in emerging technologies.

More information about the 2021-22 Digital Skills budget priorities can be found here: https://digitaleconomy.pmc.gov.au/fact-sheets/digital-skills

NSW Institute of Applied Technology

In a state-based example, in March 2021 the NSW Government announced it would be implementing a recommendation to establish the NSW Institute of Applied Technology (IAT). According to the NSW government, the NSW IAT “will be a new model of tertiary education that will fully integrate the theoretical study of university with the practical training of vocational education” (The Premier, 2021).

In essence, the NSW IAT is an attempt to address several issues highlighted through numerous reports on the gaps in Australia’s education and training system, including:

  • Student workforce preparedness in relation to technical and employability skills
  • Qualifications that address employer-focused skills and learning
  • Employer and industry co-design and delivery of skills
  • Training and education that matches with industry needs

More information about the NSW IAT can be found here: https://www.tafensw.edu.au/instituteofappliedtechnology

Industry initiatives

As part 3 in this series explored in more detail, industry has also stepped in to help fill the digital skilling gap. Ranging from basic digital skills training for job seekers, through entry level on-the-job traineeships, to upskilling or reskilling initiatives, the programs on offer aim to minimise the gap between employee skills and industry needs. Some of these industry-led programs include:

While these approaches and responses signify positive shifts, there is still room for further improvement on the policy front when it comes to digital inclusion, and in turn, social inclusion. Closing the digital divide will require long-term strategies to provide better services to job seekers, improve digital infrastructure, and ensure VET has the resources and funding to respond agilely to the changing skills market.

The last part of this series will look closely at the connection between digital skills and Australian Apprenticeships.

Join us for a Digital Skills webinar

AATIS is hosting a webinar to wrap-up this series of blog posts. Join our expert panellists who will discuss:
- The types of digital skills needed in Australia
- How the Australian VET system can deliver these
- Initiatives targeting the digital workforce.

The results of this poll and any questions to the presenter will be included in the webinar, for discussion by the panellists.

Date: Tuesday 29 June
Time: 2:00pm AEST
Registration: visit the registration website
Recording: a recording will be made available after the session

Project funding 

The report ‘Digital Skilling Situational Analysis Australia’ was prepared by Dr Mark Dean and Dr Peta Skujins from Integrated Information Service (IIS) with support from the GAN Australia steering committee for the Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN) and Microsoft Philanthropies. 

Funding was provided by Microsoft Corporation. The material in the report and subsequent blog posts does not necessarily reflect Microsoft’s views or policies, nor does mention of initiatives or organizations imply endorsement by Microsoft. 

This is part 3 of a 5-part series of posts about digital skills. Over the next several weeks we will be releasing blog posts related to the report ‘Digital Skilling Situational Analysis Australia’. For more information about the report or to download a copy please visit the GAN Australia Website. 

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