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Digital skills:


The current explosion in new technologies is reinventing much of the way businesses are run. This has significant implications for the workforce, which needs to evolve and be agile to keep up with this technological expansion.

Digital skills, which are becoming increasingly important and a priority for many industries, can include:

  • coding and programming
  • developing and using robotic and automation technologies
  • leveraging information and communication technologies (ICT) skills in business
  • exploring the world of cloud computing and the Internet of Things.

The Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) is in the process of establishing an Industry 4.0 Industry Reference Committee, to help ensure vocational education and training gives students the future-focussed skills they will need, as workplaces become radically transformed by increased automation and digitalisation.

Several cross-sector projects have focused on the impact of technological advances on the workforce.
These projects have sought to address common skills needs, minimise duplication and consolidate existing training units. Projects include:


  • looking at developing Digital skills across industries
  • looking at the workforce skilling implications in relation to the use of Automation and Digital Skills, namely robotics, drones and remote operation systems
  • examining the implications of the major change underway across and within Supply chains due to the impact of automation, robotics, big data and other new technologies
  • reviewing current and emerging developments in Cyber security skills, particularly in relation to data confidentiality, protection and privacy, and identifying related skills needs shared by multiple industry sectors
  • providing an evidence-based case and industry support for developing vocational training in Big data and big data analytics skills that can be transferable across multiple industries.

COVID-19 impact

The CSIRO report Global trade and investment megatrends explains that the necessity of remote working and learning, online shopping, healthcare, communication and entertainment has compelled a decade’s worth of digital transformation to occur within the space of a few months. The digital technology sector is expanding worldwide despite the global economic downturn and there is an urgent need to upgrade skills in artificial intelligence (AI), data science, machine learning, robotics, and cybersecurity.

This is supported by Critical Role of Blue Tech and Digital Skills in Australia's Economic Recovery, which confirms that when Australia starts moving into the recovery phase, the digital and AI disruption already being experienced pre-COVID-19 will accelerate, and the workforce needs to be prepared now. Future of Digital Skills for WA highlights how the pandemic has shown the importance of digital fluency, and PwC Australia’s 1st Annual Not-for-profit CEO Survey found that 77% of not-for-profit organisations said that the need for digital upskilling of workers has become a higher priority in the context of COVID-19.

Nine new skill sets were endorsed in relation to digital skills in July to assist the ICT sector to meet priority workforce needs in a number of specialty areas, followed by the Digital Skills for Small Business Skill Set and the Entry into Technology Skill Set in September designed to support small businesses as they adapt to operating in an online environment, and assist displaced workers to secure employment in areas of labour market growth.

Industry skills needs

Generic skills

In their comprehensive 2019 Skills Forecasts, IRCs ranked a series of 12 generic skill categories, in priority order.

Technology use and application skills (which aligns with Digital skills) received an average ranking of 4th (out of 12) across all skills forecasts.


Priority skills

Digital skills were also identified by around half of the industries that reported on priority skills in their 2019 Skills Forecasts.

The digital skills identified by the industry skills forecasts could be split broadly into two main categories:

  • Digital skills relating to industry specific software or technology, identified by the following industries:
    • Business Services
    • Electricity Supply Generation
    • Electricity Supply Transmission, Distribution and Rail
    • Furnishing
    • Process Manufacturing (PMA).
  • General digital skills and literacy, identified by the following industries:
    • Correctional Services
    • Forestry and Wood Products
    • Gas
    • Maritime
    • Mining, Drilling and Civil Infrastructure
    • Rail
    • Transport and Logistics
    • Water.


Internet job postings

Internet job vacancy postings that contained requests for digital skills were examined for occupational trends. This includes requests for specific techinical skills such as experience in Microsoft Office software or SQL, as well as general requests for computer literacy, software development or data entry experience. The following chart compares the percentage of internet job postings in each occupation (ANZSCO Major Group) that requested digital skills.

Internet job postings that requested digital skills, by occupation (2016-20)

Source: Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight™ Real-time Labor Market Information tool.

Computer skills were requested most frequently for clerical, administrative and professional occupations, and least often for community or personal service workers and labourers. This suggests that most clerical and administrative jobs will involve frequent use of digital technologies. Job postings will often specify the type of digital technology that will be used, with Microsoft Office products such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint the most common.

The following graphic shows examples of occupations where digital skills are highly requested, and some examples of the types of requests employers are making for those in these occupations.

There are two broad occupation types where digital skills are often requested – non-IT focused occupations where digital skills are often for more basic or broad tasks, and IT professions where high levels of specific digital skills are needed.

Case studies

Business Services

The Business Services industry is involved in the operation and management of businesses, and as such it is not an independent industry; rather all Australian industries include workers in Business Services. The industry includes the sub-sectors:

  • Business Administration and Governance
  • Business Communication
  • Business Leadership and Management
  • Specialised Business Services.

The skills forecast identifies ‘Data literacy’ and ‘Digital competence’ as two of the five key enterprise, or transferrable, skills required by Business Services workers. These are described by the following quotes from the Business Services IRC ’s 2019 Skills Forecast as:

Data literacy – Data literacy is the ability to derive meaningful insights from data. Workers across the Business Services sector have access to more and more data, with a growing emphasis being placed on data-driven decision making. These skills enable a person to effectively identify, locate, interpret, and evaluate information to produce business insights.

Digital competency – including skills relating to: cyber security and use of technology to perform tasks. A digitally competent person is able to use new and emerging platforms and digital technologies in a business environment. These systems are used safely and critically, and may enable digital or virtual collaboration. As the Business Services sector becomes increasingly digitally-enabled, broad digital competence becomes imperative for this workforce.


The Utilities industry employs over 100,000 people, providing vital services in Fossil Fuel and Renewable Generation, supplying high-voltage electricity from generators to distribution networks and directly to domestic and industrial users, gaseous fuel storage and distribution, gas retail, transmission and distribution, and providing water and sewerage systems to households and businesses, and irrigation water in agriculture. The industry is comprised of four main industry sectors:

  • ESI Generation
  • ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail
  • Gas
  • Water.

The increasing adoption of new technologies has reshaped the industry’s operations, increasing the need for workers to possess digital skills. This is highlighted in the following quotes taken from the four skills forecasts:

Digital technologies can offer a potential $1.3 billion of benefit per year for the electrical power sector alone. This will require a digitally competent workforce with a range of skills, from basic ICT skills to specialist skills, to manipulate and interpret data in a meaningful manner and deploy technologies more effectively. (ESI Generation IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast)

The workforce will need to be prepared to work with intelligent technical support equipment (e.g. smart technologies – inverters, meters and new technologies such as storage at various scales)...Recruitment of digitally enabled workforce specialists who also have knowledge of the ESI TDR industry is already being reported as difficult. This has potential to increase over time as the demand for these occupations inevitably continue to grow to meet demands. (ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast)

The increasing adoption of new technologies in the Gas Supply industry has transformed operations, creating new opportunities and requiring new skills and training… To benefit from these opportunities, training and upskilling the workforce in digital literacy, digital map reading, cybersecurity, data analytics and other data-related technologies is deemed essential. (Gas IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast)

New technological innovations have transformed the industry’s operations, providing opportunities to save costs, improve services, and boost efficiency… In line with these technologies, big data will be a strong focus into the future and the industry will require skills in data analytics, digital literacy, and cybersecurity. (Water IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast)

The industry is utilising more digital technology and transitioning away from an asset centric mindset to a customer-centric one. To fully achieve the objectives of a customer centric model, the workforce requires skills such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and digital skills. (Water IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast)

Updated: 23 Mar 2021
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