This year, NCVER’s No Frills Conference was delivered as an online event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The focus was on Workforce Ready Challenges and Opportunities for VET.
Here, we are discussing and summarising the findings from the Vocational Voices Podcast about what RTOs can do to better prepare learners for the future workforce as well as some of the challenges they will face moving forward.
How will workplaces look and what skills will workers need in the future?
Our economy relies on students successfully transitioning from training to work. But with technology evolving as rapidly as it is, the workers of the future will need to continuously upskill throughout their careers, creating a lifelong learning scenario for most. This presents challenges as well as opportunities for VET.
Opportunity: Focus on developing ‘Soft Skills’
In addition to offering opportunities for enhancing employability skills (ie. Microcredentials) training providers also need to help learners continually develop the necessary ‘soft skills’ such as problem solving, collaboration and communication. And not in an abstract way, but in the context of their expertise.
For example, an experienced Childcare Centre Coordinator would have excellent problem solving skills in relation to Childcare, but if placed on an oil rig and a fire broke out, they would be faced with a problem to solve but would be unequipped with the specific skills required. Likewise, an experienced oil rig engineer would struggle when faced with a room full of crying toddlers.
These examples highlight the need to build soft skills on the back of mastery of a specific area. This provides adaptability and the option to move into other areas requiring the same domains of expertise.
Opportunity: Create a digitally literate future workforce
Technology has enabled the workforce to enhance their services in almost every capacity. It has also allowed different sectors to continue, or to adapt in order to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the challenges that comes along with ensuring a digitally literate workforce is not mistaking education for digital capabilities. The same can be said for making assumptions about age and digital literacy. While many younger learners and workers may be digitally literate, not all of them are. And the same goes for making assumptions about lack of ability in older workers.
Anne Livingstone describes how Juniper in WA created a role of New Tech Advocate, who will assist staff and volunteers in the aged care sector enhance their digital literacy skills. She explains that as technology is expected to play a larger role in enabling independence and quality of care, particularly within remote regions, having a more adaptive and resilient workforce that is able to respond to these technologies will be a major asset in Aged Care and helping people with disabilities.
The increased reliance on TeleHealth and TeleCare during the pandemic are perfect examples of using technology to connect the workforce to the individuals that require their services.
In order to make this a reality, what needs to happen is structured training for the use of technology that is relevant for a specific job. This means making sure workers are well trained and know how to use it to maximise efficiency in all scenarios.
Challenge: Filling the Void Left by International Students
The current travel restrictions have created challenges for the VET sector. Firstly, many training providers rely on international students to make up a large percentage of their cohort; and secondly, there are employers who rely on skilled immigrants in VET related jobs, such as aged care. This will be particularly hard hitting for rural providers who, in many cases, rely solely on overseas workers.
What can be done? Some training providers are looking to other sectors with complimentary skillsets that might be experiencing a downturn and are working with individuals to get them upskilled or use the skills they already have to be able to quickly adapt to these shortfalls.
Opportunity: How Apprenticeships and Traineeships Can Help
Of the labour force, around 90% are employed at age 25, however, the context and quality of their employment is dependant on their education. Those with a bachelors degree or an apprentice level qualification are more likely to be employed full-time. Conversely, those with lower levels of education are more likely to experience unpredictability in their employment, or be unemployed.
It is important to note that there has been a decrease in employment rates and an increase in casual workers across all educational attainment levels. However, those without a skill qualification are more at risk of employment uncertainty, and more likely to experience longer periods of unemployment when compared to those with higher education levels.
Challenge: Harnessing parental influence
Research has shown that parents have the greatest influence on school leavers. This is mainly because parents can speak from their own experience and offer information and advice about what they know. Parents who attended university and worked as professionals are likely to recommend that as the desired course of action.
Parents can also be a source of negative influence and consciously or unconsciously communicate these feelings to their children. This is because they may feel that an occupation has ‘low status’ or because they don’t know about it, and therefore, cannot provide true advice.
What can be done? One company discovered that when they were experiencing difficulty retaining apprentices, they started bringing their parents to discuss the details with them beforehand, and retention rates began to improve. Simply explaining to the parents what they could expect for their child, as well as likely discussing the benefits of completing the apprenticeship, gave them enough confidence that they were able to play a part in encouraging their child to stick with it.
What is the Takeaway Message?
There is no question vocational education will play a large role in the economic recovery post-COVID-19. Workers will need to upskill more to keep up with the rapid technological advancements. There will also be an emphasis on ‘soft-skills’, and making sure these are transferrable.
Apprenticeships should not be overlooked as a viable career pathway. But whatever career choice is made, the workers of tomorrow must be flexible and willing to adapt to the many changes that are sure to come their way.
To listen to this podcast in full, click here.