Digital displacement to see 47 percent of jobs at high risk of being redundant due to the probability of computerisation and more than 90 percent of Australian jobs to require digital literacy in the next two to five years.
It is an undeniable fact that the world is facing many significant changes politically, socially and culturally, bringing new challenges across the globe. It is at a time like this people can often lose sight of the problem right in front of them here and now. The reality is that Australia is possibly facing a bleak economic future, with some startling projections that may be realised in only a few short years. Australia faces difficult, global challenges such as climate change, with many factors requiring complex solutions and with a timeframe that is unknown. Australia’s technological skills shortage, however, is imminent, certain and it is something that can be solved more easily if it is tackled now.
So, what is the problem? Is it real and does it have significant effects on everyday ordinary Australian families?
The problem (or challenge for the optimists) is that there is a looming shortfall in the technological skills of the Australian workforce. A recent projection states that up to 47 percent of jobs may be up for displacement (Frey & Osborne, 2013). This is not merely a prediction; this is already underway, with the demand for digital literacy jobs increasing by 212 percent, as observed in early career job ads over the past three years. An Australian study confirms this, with even more alarming numbers, stating that future jobs tipped to request digital literacy exceed current demands by more than 600 percent (Foundation of Young Australians [FYA], 2016).
Students are not equipped with the knowledge or abilities to be employed in the roles available in the future as technology displacement rapidly increases. Close to a third (27 percent) of Australian 15 year olds have low proficiency in digital literacy, as found in international testing by the Programme for International Assessment (PISA, 2012). The startling nature of this situation is that it is not just factory line or manufacturing jobs that are in the firing line as is often assumed. If this is even partially realised, it is worrying due to the sheer enormity of jobs that will not be able to be fulfilled by Australian students. Australian students and children, the next generation of Australia, deserve to be prepared for the massive change coming to the employment landscape.
What is Digital Literacy?
Digital literacy is not about every child knowing how to code or be computer programmers. It is not about having a generation of computer hackers. It is about students understanding and being fluent, or literate, in the digital language that will become necessary for future communication. Digital technology training is about mastering computers and learning the necessary skills to communicate in the workplace of the future. Think about the rapid escalation of technology in everyday jobs already. Many workplaces expect email, intranet, app interaction and online chat capabilities as a very basic skill for day-to-day work.
Some may presume that their children are just fine with technology: “My kids are whizzes on their iPad, computer, game console, phone… in fact I cannot get them off it.” However, just because children can consume entertainment on technology, they are not necessarily masters of technology. Their tech consumption skills certainly do not guarantee that they will possess the required skills for the workforce. Even more concerning is the lack of awareness of the problem. The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that “Australian students have a significantly less positive attitude towards computers than on average across the OECD” (Miller, 2017). Further exacerbating these problems is the socio-economic divide here, with “Low socioeconomic and Indigenous students also reporting lower levels of belief in the importance of working with computers, signalling weaker understanding of the workforce of the future” (Miller, 2017).
This is a problem for all Australians and will have grave consequences for Australian society as a whole if left unattended. Forward-thinking companies are proactively facing these challenges, while others are oblivious to the problem or hoping it magically solves itself (Miller, 2017). Highlighting this issue is that wages are higher for young job seekers with digital literacy skills – paying $8,648 more per annum (FYA, 2016). So either a company finds someone local or, as is often the case, looks offshore. This is neither favourable for the company, for Australian residents or for the local economy.
The FYA notes, “Amid these changes, Australia’s 4.3 million young people are our greatest resource. It is the next generation who will inherit the outcomes of the decisions we make today and will have to navigate a future we can’t yet even describe. As our population ages, the ability of our growing youth population to participate in, contribute to and shape our economy will be crucial in delivering a quality of life for all of us.”
How is Australia tackling this problem? The current education system is inadequately prepared to put an effective solution in place. To be fair, it is a monumental task. Most schools do not have teachers capable of delivering effective ICT lessons. This capability can be built through training, though this takes time, resources and intent from schools. A greater barrier though is the expense of the hardware required. A few iPads here and there does not constitute an ICT curriculum. Is the Government able (and willing) to increase education budgets by significant amounts? Does the Government have the timeliness and efficiency to tackle this? Leaving it to the Government to fix the problem may mean that the solution does not come fast enough. With computers being mainstream for nearly 20 years now, the education system is only now (and in some states still not for a few years) introducing a mandatory digital curriculum. Leaving the future of students to a ‘let’s worry about that later’ mentality is simply negligent. Time for talk is over.
Politicians are becoming aware of this issue, with Victorian State Education Minister James Merlino recently commenting, “Seventy-five percent of new jobs require science and maths, and the new curriculum would help teach these skills.” A spokesman from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority stated, “Victoria follows the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia in adopting the national technology curriculum, with other states to follow by the end of 2018.” Only one in three computer and technology teachers are qualified to teach this new curriculum, according to recent Australian Centre for Educational Research data (Jacks, 2017). This exemplifies the problem at hand.
The solution requires a multifaceted approach. Of course, Government plays a large role, but corporate Australia needs to be involved. It is time everyone realised that the education system needs assistance; the required resources are just too large. ScopeIT Education, while not the entire solution to the country’s education crisis, can be a school’s entire solution to its ICT problem. Schools are, in many cases inadequately resourced and ScopeIT helps meet these challenges. By providing digital technologies trainers, the necessary hardware (such as a mobile computer lab, 3D printers and software) and tailored ICT curriculum courses with fully developed lesson plans, ScopeIT provides an in-school education solution.
Facing the problem is the first step. For schools that require it, now is the time to take action and seek help. With the world full of so many challenging problems, I hope we can all face up to and start solving this problem together, as education is everyone’s concern.
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Frank Lucisano is the CEO of ScopeIT Education, an Australian education body which was founded by combining his passions of technology, computer science and education. ScopeIT Education is now the world leader in providing curriculum-based school courses and lessons directly to primary and early adolescent students across Australia. With the vision of every student, every school, ScopeIT provides the courses, computers and even the instructors so that no child misses out. Visit www.scopeITEducation.com.au for more information.