In Summary

United action is needed to ensure we don’t face a gap in technology skills, says Professor Leon Sterling, Swinburne University of Technology Pro Vice Chancellor (Digital Frontiers).

What will be the jobs of the future? What skills will be needed by industry and government? What type of employees will they demand? These questions are important, concerning students as they decide what courses and subjects to study. The questions also concern government and industry in their planning to ensure there is a capable workforce to fit their requirements for growth and development.

It seems certain that technology, particularly information and communications technology (ICT), will play an important role in future jobs. ICT innovation is continuing unabated. There is a constant stream of new apps, new uses of social media, and a burgeoning start-up culture where hopeful young entrepreneurs are trialling new ideas to be delivered through ICT.

ICT is already replacing many services. We have had automated teller machines (ATMs) at banks for many years performing routine tasks of a teller. Supermarkets are increasingly allowing for self check-out, with the possible loss of jobs for casual check-out help. At my university, Swinburne, we are about to go live with a new student system with greater possibilities for students to do self-service, which will change the work of many of the student administration staff.

Does society gain from the automation of low-level activities? This is not an easy question to answer. A recent article in The Economist raised the spectre of technological unemployment. Differing views were expressed as to whether the increased productivity that automation can facilitate will lead to new jobs, as happened subsequent to the industrial revolution, or whether those owning the automated services will become more profitable, allowing the wealth gap to grow without investing in new jobs. Some of the large new IT corporations such as Facebook have many fewer jobs than the large manufacturing corporations, for example.

Regardless of what jobs will evolve in the future, government and industry are concerned about the supply of employees with sufficient ICT skills. In late 2012, a meeting was organised by the then federal education minister, Senator Chris Evans, to discuss the matter of ICT skills. This led to the delivery of a report by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency that stated that a skills gap would emerge unless outside steps were taken to promote student uptake of ICT courses and skills training. Concern about a skills gap in ICT, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) more generally, was expressed also by the Australian Industry Group in a report issued last year.

The Victorian Government has developed an ICT strategy, including workforce development. An update to the Victorian Government ICT Strategy is available for public feedback before 10 February, 2014. The update includes the direction to:

•       Create simpler access to accurate information and improve efficiency of transactions;

•       Increase government productivity by more secure, reliable and efficient information flows to deliver better services;

•       Take greater advantage of major technology trends such as location awareness, mobility, cloud-based platforms, faster application development and improved means of dealing with cyber security; and

•       Ensure engagement, investment and capability to innovate and manage risk is improved.

The Victorian Government also released its draft ICT Workforce Development Plan for public consultation which closes on 12 February 2014. The draft was developed by representatives from government, industry and academia. All three groups have a stake in meeting the skills and workforce development needs.

The draft plan aims to position Victoria to take advantage of the exciting and ever-changing ICT landscape, and to develop a focused and sufficiently skilled business technology workforce that can lead Victoria into the next surge of economic growth. Building a robust and highly-skilled ICT workforce is a challenging task that can only be achieved through joint action of government, industry and education. The collaborative approach detailed in the draft plan will continue to be the basis for ongoing work that will ensure Victoria remains ahead of the pack in ICT.

I strongly encourage people to have input into one or both of these plans.

To people out there interested in a stimulating and interesting career, with promising possibilities of new jobs, I strongly recommend taking up study of ICT skills. It is a way of preparing for the future and a place where rewarding jobs are created.