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Australia’s digital future workers must beat machines

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Add some coding skills to numeracy and literacy and presto, future workforce! Not quite, there is a strange new world coming and a holistic approach to equipping people to survive in a workforce which competes directly with machines is needed.

The focus is on mindsets and the things humans are good at, workers need to develop and maintain their uniquely human competitive advantage over increasingly sophisticated technologies. They must become ‘learning workers’ who possess a hierarchy of attributes, combined with the right mindset and honed by working in increasingly digital environments.

Expertise or a trade will continue to be a fundamental for most, but workers will need to leverage their explicit knowledge to solve complex problems, to perform critical analysis, to make decisions, to work in ambiguous and dynamic problem spaces, to work across different knowledge domains, to develop new ideas and identify ways of creating value.

At some point soon, there will be no distinction between digital and technological skills from a person’s trade skills or professional expertise. They will integrate to become part of the worker’s overall function

Humans have an advantage in their ability to socialise, collaborate, empathise, to lead and be entrepreneurial, this combines with the right mindset (risk-taking, curiosity, ability to handle ambiguity, continuous learning, agency) to create a valued future worker.

Connecting with colleagues, customers and clients, social competencies will increasingly include the ability to work with people across digital platforms and collaborative skills will evolve from working with those we know to those we do not across the globe through digital networks.

How is success or efficiency quantified in a new world of work? Value creation. Rather than analyse, plan and implement, workers will need to experiment and learn how to help the organisation advance or evolve.

Education will be key, but is insufficient in its current form, an evolution is required here. Australian workers prefer ‘learning on the job’ over any other format and this needs to become ‘learning-integrated work’, where learning is integrated into the workplace.

Learning must focus on advancing a worker’s functional and technological skills and soft skills like developing social competencies in the forms of interactive learning, self-directed learning, and cross-functional learning need to be encouraged.

Research shows that learning through and with others at work is far more effective than learning individually. Allowing the worker to self-direct their learning based on their curiosity and motivations is empowering and helps develop their agency. Working across boundaries (knowledge, expertise, cultural, etc.) not only requires advanced social capabilities, it also enhances cross-functional cognitive skills.

The highest level of learning is creating value, the goal of learning-integrated work. By focusing on learning how to create value in digitally disruptive environments, the learning worker develops the tacit knowledge to work effectively in the digital future.

The continuous learning cycle is more than ongoing development of a worker’s foundational knowledge and functional expertise. Continuous learning is also creating value through converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

The learning context matters, workplace learning is a process, not an event, and it is most effective when it occurs in a work environment. Learning-integrated work occurs in disruptive environments and where technology is augmenting the worker’s capability.

The traditional notion of a linear career is no longer a reality. Learning is no longer something that occurs only at the beginning of someone’s working life. Workers will not only have many jobs over their lifetime – each of their jobs will be continually changing while they work.

We need a new learning infrastructure that drives deep and continuous connections between educators and employers supported by government. The core objective is to prepare workers for the digital economy and maintain their advantage.

The new learning infrastructure is based on three pillars:
• New partnership models – New approaches to partnerships between educators and employers need to be developed and implemented, focusing on developing learning workers, integrating learning into work and reimagining accreditation for value creation. There will likely be many successful formulas for models across different sectors, industries and geographies.

• A network of practice – The learning infrastructure would facilitate the sharing of findings, experience and best practice approaches between educators and employers across the network. This national network of practice would foster collaboration through research, exchange of information and support relating to integrating learning.

• Values – Collective responsibility of employers and educators towards preparing workers is essential in the partnership model. Both have their unique roles but with shared inclusivity must also be a core value of the learning infrastructure to ensure those workers most vulnerable of being displaced are supported.

The pace of change and new pathways through which technology is already transforming the Australian economy mean traditional education and training – and the skills it develops – need to begin responding now. The best way to achieve this is to increasingly immerse learning in work environments.

From: Peak Human Potential – Preparing Australia’s workforce for the digital future. Swinburne Centre for the New Workforce

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