General Manager for Learning, Innovation and Technology at Victoria University (VU) Polytechnic, Gail Bray, cautions of the pressing need for vocational education and training providers to speed up and adapt to next-generation education and Industry 4.0 or risk missing out on unique opportunities.
In a rapidly digitised world, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are transforming every facet of life, work and learning. We are about to enter an age people refer to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or ‘Industry 4.0’. The pressing need for educators to be prepared is paramount. Teachers and students must become tech ready, work ready and life ready. The speed, scale and impact of this revolution will be unparalleled – every job of the future will involve technology.
According to Google Australia’s boss, Australia needs to ‘speed up’ on AI or risk missing out on a $2.2 trillion boom.
Educators, students and the Australian workforce must prepare for the near-future reality of complete digital transformation – and they must do this quickly. At VU Polytechnic we are responding to this need through the creation of a digital arm that includes the development of a range of digital and emerging technology programs.
VU Polytechnic recently opened a cybersecurity training centre in partnership with global networking giant Cisco to address the increasing shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Part of our award-winning work includes the creation of modern digital learning programs that have been benchmarked against the best in the world, but we need to do more. As a sector, we need to be seen as leading, not lagging, and leveraging opportunities before corporations beat us to it.
VU Polytechnic’s strategy
VU Polytechnic is front and centre in preparing the workforce for a digital future. In addition to our award-winning digital programs and a new cybersecurity centre, we are launching a Future Skills Accelerator that will address the skills gap emerging due to automation. Skills that include coding, cloud computing, data analytics, cyber awareness, design and others yet to be identified.
Our current, future-ready strategy includes project-based learning comprising of design thinking, skill development and prototype testing; all in partnership with industry clients. Students will work with businesses to problem-solve and get hands-on experience developing solutions that include 3D printing, machine learning and robotics.
Professional development opportunities to upskill teachers will also be available.
Issues VU Polytechnic is working to address include the underrepresentation of women in tech. Sadly, there are less women in tech today than in the 1970s; a statement about cultural and attitudinal norms rather than capability. As technical skills become increasingly essential, it is crucial to bring more women into IT.
Many secondary schools are struggling to continue to run IT programs due to lack of funding and interest. Enterprises and educators will need to start thinking about their staff’s digital IQ and EQ and adapt and work intelligently to upskill, cross-skill and re-skill staff. To help Australia grow this rapidly changing sector and remain competitive globally, Vocational Education and Training (VET) has a huge role to play.
Merging skillsets with tech opportunities
The good news for educators is that everyone needs the skills and training for an ever-evolving workforce. Recruiters and employers are no longer happy with just a degree, they want to see examples of work, such as production of a digital portfolio. They want to know a candidate’s industry connections and their practical, hands-on experiences.
There is a huge amount of training we need to do to prepare Australia for such rapid change. Contrast to popular belief, robots and other technological advancements don’t steal jobs, they create them.
The World Economic Forum projects that, while 75 million jobs will likely be displaced by robots, 133 million new jobs will be created. This would be a net gain of more than 50 million jobs globally, albeit with new skills and knowledge (WEF Future of Jobs, 2018).
Addressing evolving workplace needs
Training in technology easily complements existing qualifications and presents a unique opportunity to continue learning throughout one’s career. But there’s a gap between the skills needed in AI and the current education system.
In the next five years alone, the Australian Financial Review says that Australia will need 200,000 more tech workers. What’s more, the World Economic Forum predicts 54 per cent of employees will need re-skilling by 2022. The report says that striking a balance between hard and soft skills, such as communication, active learning and analytical thinking will be critical.
Educators risk missing out
As educators lag in the uptake of digital technology and AI, corporations are overtaking us. More contemporary providers such as Amazon, Coursera, General Assembly, Netflix Education and even Australia Post’s Tech Academy all pose a genuine risk to educators.
Australia has a lot of work to do in preparing education providers to tackle these opportunities face-on, so ongoing funding and awareness will be critical. Partnerships between industry, academia and the government will be essential to succeed in Industry 4.0. To create skilled workers, we need the right funding and educational know-how.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and it’s real. With knowledge available everywhere, as educators we must ask ourselves what our point of difference or X-factor is.
What is our value to the consumer when content is ubiquitous?
Robots may not take our jobs, but we will be working together. Through all of the technological advancements and change, humans will remain at the centre of everything we do. The roles of teachers will look different to today but will always be essential.
The future is here – the role of vocational education providers is critical in providing industry with a highly skilled workforce to ensure Australia remains competitive globally.