Australian workers expect big changes in the workplace, but don’t feel prepared

Thursday 12 December 2019 by Jessie Dennis

people collaborating in coworking space

As digital technologies transform work across the economy, workers will need to continuously learn to stay ahead of the disruption curve

In summary

  • New research by Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce and YouGov, reveals Australian workers are not sufficiently preparing for work being transformed by digital technology
  • The national survey states that 61 per cent of Australian workers do not think their current skill set is suited for the next five years of work
  • The survey found that over half of workers say the main barrier to workplace learning is not having dedicated time

The Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology has released some key findings from its second annual national survey on the future of work. The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,060 working Australians in late November, in partnership with YouGov.

The survey sought to better understand how Australian workers are preparing for work being transformed by digital technology, for example through artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, and their sentiments about the future.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • 61 per cent of Australian workers do not think their current skill set is suited for the next five years of work, up from 56 per cent in 2018
  • Australian workers indicate that learning more and being stimulated by their work is a key motivator. When asked what inspires them in their current work, 46 per cent of Australian workers rate ‘the nature of the work itself’, and 34 per cent rate ‘opportunity to learn and grow’
  • When asked about the main barriers to learning at work, 56 per cent stated ‘not having dedicated time for learning’ and 39 per cent stated ‘unsupportive working environment where learning is stigmatised’
  • 51 per cent of Australian workers spend less than one hour a week at work on any form of learning, including 20 per cent of Australian workers who do no learning at all at work. 34 per cent of workers spend between one to four hours per week on learning at work, 15 per cent of Australian workers spend five hours a week or more learning at work (as shown in the chart below).
  • A worker’s education level greatly affects the likelihood of workplace learning occurring. 61 per cent of university-educated workers spend more than one hour a week learning, compared to 39 per cent for TAFE-level workers and only 35 per cent of workers with no tertiary education
    Pie chart showing hours workers spend on learning at work

Insights from the research lead

Director of Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce and research lead Dr Sean Gallagher, shares the following insights into the study and its findings:

‘The pace of change is real and continues to accelerate in Australian workplaces. As digital technologies transform work across the economy, workers will need to continuously learn to stay ahead of the disruption curve’

According to a recent study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value of 5,670 global executives across 48 countries, it now takes 36 days a year to ‘close a skills gap through training’, which is an increase of more than 10 times in just four years.

‘That’s the equivalent of five hours of learning each week. Most Australian workers are not doing enough learning to advance their skills, knowledge and capabilities. As technology advances, routine work will increasingly be displaced. Only learning more functional skills is not enough for a worker to secure their future.

‘The low levels of learning occurring in workplaces across Australia is a serious concern. Workers themselves are reporting they feel they are falling behind and are not prepared for the digital era. But, bridging the capability gap does not mean employers have to lose hours of productivity from their employees each week being in expensive training courses.

‘Work is where disruption is occurring, not the classroom. So, developing the skillset workers require is best done in the workplace.

‘Three things differentiate humans from technology. We are first and foremost social creatures, we can see over the horizon, and we can create new knowledge.

By working collaboratively to solve complex problems or identify new opportunities, workers create new value. This is learning for the future of work. It is supported by online learning or more formal programs, as required.

In terms of competencies, workers require more advanced skillsets based on their uniquely human skills – such as emotional, collaborative, creative, communication and entrepreneurial skills. When these skills are combined with more advanced technical skills and higher-level cognitive skills such as decision-making, workers have a competitive advantage over technology.

‘Not only is the worker able to develop expertise to work effectively in the digital era, this learning actually creates new value that can enhance the competitive advantage for the organisation to avoid disruption.

‘And by better integrating learning into the flow of work, especially where it is increasingly collaborative, organisations will create a far more supportive workplace for learning.

‘Learning for the future of work can be a win-win for workers and their organisations.’