Australia continues to lag in workforce capability according to a new report from the Australian Industry Group. Skilling: A National Imperative has identified critical skill issues facing businesses, with 75 per cent of employers reporting skill shortages and 99 per cent saying they are impacted by low levels of literacy and numeracy.
While most of the reported skills shortage is in technician and trade categories, capability in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) continues to be weak.
The STEM skills shortfall has been well documented for several years, with a range of policy responses developed to try and redress it.
Despite many government interventions, the survey reports that the overall skills shortage has increased from 49% in 2016 to 75% in 2018, signalling a trend that may continue unless we can improve literacy and numeracy and encourage more students into STEM careers.
The Ai Group’s findings suggest that education and training is one of the most important enablers for Australia to develop successful, future-focused companies.
The survey found clear pressure points affecting employers:
- Skills shortages: 75 per cent of respondents reported skills shortages, a jump from 49 per cent in the previous survey conducted in 2016. Shortages are most often in the technician and trades worker category, with difficulties recruiting for STEM skills, and new shortages for roles in business automation, Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions.
- Literacy and Numeracy: 99 per cent of employers (up from 96 per cent in 2016) are affected in some way by low levels of literacy and numeracy in their workforce. This is disturbing at a time when the workforce increasingly requires foundation skills that include not only literacy and numeracy but digital literacy and advanced soft skills.
- Leadership and Management: employers are prioritising technology capability improvements for managers, 62 per cent of whom believe a lack of leadership and management skills is having a high impact on the business (up from 56 per cent in 2016). This reflects the major changes needed in the way work is done and managed as entire business processes and organisational cultures are upended in the digital economy.
With many in the high growth economy sectors including big data, automation and artificial intelligence continuing to struggle to find the right skills and talent, Australia’s ability to compete in the global market is severely compromised.
“It is clear we need new approaches to education, training and re-skilling to maximise the benefits of the digital economy. This is particularly important as employers reshape workforce capabilities and seek higher level skills, advanced technical and soft skills, digital literacy and change management know-how,” says Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox.
The Ai Group is calling for closer collaboration between industry and education sectors to drive education and training that adapts quickly to the needs of the digital economy.