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The wrong skills for the wrong century

Marie Johnson | May 11, 2015
Why the gap between the digital literacy of our millennials and other nations is increasing and what we can do about it.

skills

CeBIT was held in Sydney this week and for the first time - in the midst of the celebration of technology innovation - there was a specific session focused on what only can be described as an economic emergency - skills.

The Australian economy is pumping out the wrong skills for the wrong century. Or more politely, the economy is not adapting to produce the skills for the future.

The emergency siren is being rung by all sectors across the Australian economy, in industry, academia, research and government. The evidence of digital disruption is hiding in plain sight.

In a landmark speech earlier this month to the National Press Club, Catherine Livingstone, the president of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), described this period as no ordinary disruption and likened it to a phase change.

What this means is that during a phase change - as in science - previous rules and philosophies no longer apply. And so it is the case with skills.

As Livingstone so starkly described: the education system is producing thousands of law graduates for which there will be no jobs; that 400,000 young people are neither in work nor in study. Our STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) numbers have collapsed.

She called out some hard and sobering factors: that in Australia, the gap between the digital literacy of our young people and that of our competitor nations is increasing. And our young people - Australian millennials - are falling behind.

The BCA, the Australian Computer Society (ACS), the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Commonwealth and State governments and recent reports by PwC and Ernst & Young - all call out the same inconvenient truth.

The truth is our economy is failing to produce the skills of the future, and far worse, it is pumping out skills for roles from last century and that will be destroyed through automation in less than 20 years. So let's take a closer look at some of the numbers to understand the crisis that is unfolding.

Last week, a PwC report estimated that 44 per cent of Australian jobs are at risk from digital disruption and will likely be automated during the next 20 years.

In looking at the jobs listed - accounting, admin assistants, check out operators, general office and data entry - there is the inescapable observation that the jobs at risk are predominantly filled by women.

And at this same time when hundreds of thousands of young people are neither in work nor in study, and across the economy swathes of jobs are at risk from digital disruption - the economy is unable to produce the skills in volumes necessary for the digital 21st century.

 

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