In late November, NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian attended the vertical campus of Western Sydney University to give an address ‘Building the Education and Skills Foundation for the Jobs of the Future’. She could not have picked a more pertinent subject.
Greater Western Sydney and other regions are on the cusp of transformative change. GWS will become unrecognisable from the city we know today as digital disruption changes the jobs we hold, the ways we learn, our transport and energy networks and waste management systems.
The Internet of Things, blockchain, brain enhancement, biotechnology, synthetic biology and big data analysis, – collectively referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – pose challenges for us all. Regions – and nations – could rise and fall relative to each other depending on their success in navigating this change and harnessing it to the benefit of their citizens.
This spells massive changes for Australia’s education systems if we are to equip people for the future world of work. The implications are profound for all kinds of education, but especially higher education, which is geared towards the transmission of knowledge rather than directly the cultivation of skills.
The purpose of education and skills training will be re-examined. In Western Sydney, as elsewhere, the physical nature of the workplace and the culture within businesses will be transformed. The idea of a single extended career may crumble. No part of society – family, school, workplace, or government – will be immune.
There are some predictions that artificial intelligence, automation, machine learning and other disruptions will wipe out 40 per cent of jobs within 10-15 years across our economy. But things are not necessarily that bleak – because this disruption also allows the emergence of the new.
As demographer Bernard Salt has pointed out, around 700,000 jobs have been created in Australia since 2000; for every job lost another 10 were created.
While the national conversation tends to focus on the jobs and industries that have disappeared, particularly in traditional manufacturing, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the ones that have emerged, in different parts of the economy to replace them.
Customer service skills, leadership and management capability, and digital literacy in emerging technologies should be skills that young people possess as they enter the workforce.
The Foundation for Young Australians has argued that we need to nurture in our young people a new work mindset; one based on enterprise and entrepreneurialism to help young people navigate the complexities of an uncertain world.
A FYA report, ‘The New Work Mindset’ pointed to research that analysed 4.2 million job advertisements over a three year period (2012-15) which found demand for digital skills increased by 212 per cent, critical thinking skills by 158 per cent and creativity by 65 per cent. Undoubtedly there has been a steep acceleration in demand for those skills in the two years since.
Education systems, governments and employers need to work together to develop new ways of learning. We are moving away from old ideas of universities as producers and transferrers of knowledge to ones where skills are acquired in context rather than just tacked on at the end.
We must bridge the academic and vocational divide in more efficient and productive ways while tackling some of the inappropriate cultural biases that are attached to where and what you studied.
The transformative and economic, social and environmental benefits from the effective implementation and use of new technologies is vast.