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Digital skills in the Australian context

The fourth industrial revolution has influenced the need for digital skills and it is now more vital than ever for a broad range of workers to have digital skills, with this need continuing to increase. Digital skills can take the form of basic/generic skills or can be technical skills relevant to the occupation or industry.

An exploration of digital skills In Australia indicates that we are facing a significant challenge in developing, training, and sustaining a digitally skilled workforce. This is not a new challenge but has become a greater issue during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GAN Australia report, ‘Digital Skilling Situational Analysis Australia’, considers the internal and external factors shaping Australia’s digital skilling landscape. Over the coming weeks, GAN Australia and AATIS will be sharing key results from the report here on the AATIS Blog.

What are digital skills?

Digital skills are more than the capability to use digital technologies. A definition of digital skills in Australia is given by Gekara et al.’s (2017) working paper:

A combination of a digital mindset (hardware, software, information, systems, security and innovation), knowledge (theoretical comprehension and understanding), competence (cognitive and practical knowhow) and attitude (value and beliefs) (Gekara et al. 2017 p. 6).

In addition to using digital technology, an individual needs the understanding of how their use creates change and adds value. The combination of these factors allows the individual to be digitally competent, using their skills in a range of contexts.

Why are digital skills important?

Almost everyone in the Australian labour market needs some level of digital skills, although the necessary level will vary depending on the role. These may be generic digital skills, such as using email or logging timesheets, or technical digital skills such as using custom software or coding. Most occupations will need generic digital skills, even when more technical skills are also important.

The Australian Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) have ranked generic digital skills amongst the most necessary skills across all Australian industries. In addition, many technical digital skills are in demand, including automated design, coding and programming, cyber security, and working with automation technologies.

It is predicted that Australia will need millions of additional technology workers over the next few years to keep pace with technological change. Despite this, in 2020 under COVID-19 economic conditions there was a reduction of technology workers.

Without staff with the required generic or technical digital skills, businesses struggle to maintain overall productivity, keep pace with change in their industry, and to grow. With the increased rate of digital transformation this is becoming a challenge across many industries.

Digital skills in Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Training Packages govern the majority of VET delivered in Australia. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Training Package includes a range of qualifications in both information technology and telecommunications.

There are also digital skills included throughout other non-ICT related Training Packages. For example, the Foundation Skills Training Package includes units to assist learners with their basic generic digital skills, while the Business Services Training Package applies digital skills to workplaces. VET learners may undertake digital skills training through a unit related to this, or through the application of skills using digital technologies.

As Training Package qualification changes can take up to 4.5 years to complete from conception to approval, there can be need for more rapid development of qualifications. In 2019 the Certification IV in Cybersecurity was approved as a qualification outside of Training Packages that demonstrated significant need. Uptake of this qualification has been strong.

Key issues within Australia’s digital skills landscape

There are several challenges facing Australia’s digital skills landscape. Over the coming weeks we will highlight each of these in an AATIS Blog post. The key issues are:

  • The digital divide and social inclusion: There are many groups in Australia who do not have access to the digital technologies or digital skills and training they need to participate in our digital landscape.
  • Skills for a digital economy, and skills mismatch: With rapid changes in the digital economy, it can be difficult to predict what digital skills will be needed. There are currently mismatches between the skills that workers have and those that business and industry require, and this mismatch could get worse.
  • Government and policy initiatives: Governments and organisations across Australia are working to close the digital divide, to ensure Australians have the digital skills they need and to help business with their digital transformation. These initiatives may shape the future of Australia’s digital workforce.

Once we have examined these issues, we will wrap up the series of posts with a deep-dive into digital skills in Australian Apprenticeships. Apprenticeships and traineeships are a model of training that may improve outcomes for workers and businesses, where generic and digital skills learning can occur through formal training and employment experience.

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 1 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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