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Digital skills:

Overview

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.

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.

ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2021 reports that the importance of digital technology has increased, with workers almost twice as likely to work from home in February 2021 compared to March 2020, retailers adopting e-commerce, and education providers transitioned to periods of online learning. Healthcare and education had the largest growth in overall employment and in technology occupations as they experienced greater demand for their services, and needed to shift to online modes of delivery.to mitigate a higher risk of spreading COVID-19.

The FutureNow Digital Technology Industry Snapshot states demand for the products and services of the digital technology industries has expanded significantly as people seek to engage for work and other pursuits remotely. Critical Role of Blue Tech and Digital Skills in Australia's Economic Recovery, indicates 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.

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.

The Australian Government Digital Economy Strategy 2030 states COVID-19 accelerated the take up of digital technology and highlighted the role it can play to support and enhance business operations across every sector of the economy, improve the delivery of government services and make life easier for Australians. The pandemic has driven a huge leap forward in Australia’s digital capability and appetite for data, and this momentum must be maintained to secure its future prosperity and protect its national interests.

Industry skills needs

The Technology impacts on the Australian workforce report finds that 2.7 million Australian jobs are at risk from automation over the next fifteen years, but more than twice as many jobs can be created if Australia decides to invest in the skills development of its workforce.

State of Australia’s Skills 2021: now and into the future identifies data and digital skills as the fastest growing skills required by employers. In the LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Report 2021, digital fluency skills were ranked second by Australian respondents to the survey.

The 2020 Future of Jobs Report based on the results of the 2020 edition of the Future of Jobs survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF) asked employers to identify emerging skills within their organisation. For Australia’s country profile, there were two digital skills that were identified as in high demand.

  • Technology use, monitoring and control (ranked 5)
  • Technology design and programming (ranked 10).

The Learning Country: Digital Transformation Skills Strategy states the types of skills included in digital frameworks tend to be grouped into three areas:

  • Digital literacy skills, comprising the essential skills needed by everyone to enable citizenship, social inclusion and economic participation in a digital society
  • General digital skills, which are needed across the broad workforce to enable effective work in a digital economy
  • Advanced digital skills, which are the specific skills needed by ICT professionals, technicians and managers working with information technology systems, hardware and software.

Australian Government Digital Economy Strategy 2030 details the 2021-2022 budget initiatives, categorised as digital skills, artificial intelligence, enhancing government service delivery, investment incentives, SME digitalisation, emerging aviation technology, data and the digital economy, and cybersecurity, safety and trust.

Some specific examples of digital skills that industries have identified as important include:

  • Digital skills relating to industry specific software or technology, identified by the following industries and industry sectors:
    • Agriculture
    • Aviation
    • Business Services
    • Financial Services
    • Electricity Supply Generation
    • Electricity Supply Transmission, Distribution and Rail
    • Maritime
    • Property Services
    • Rail
    • Timber Processing and Products
    • Process Manufacturing (PMA).
  • General digital skills and literacy, identified by the following industries and industry sectors:
    • Corrections and Public Safety
    • Dental
    • Forestry and Wood Products
    • Gas
    • Government
    • Maritime
    • Mining, Drilling and Civil Infrastructure
    • Technicians Support Services
    • 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 (2018-21)

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

Community services

The Community Services industry is one of the largest industry areas in Australia. Much of it sits within the Health Care and Social Assistance industry. The industry can be broken down into a number of sectors:

  • Children’s Education and Care
  • Client Services
  • Community Sector and Development
  • Direct Client Care and Support.

The workforce encompasses a diverse range of job roles and functions which are multi-levelled as well as requiring multiple skill areas, often overlapping with other sectors such as housing, health, education, aged services and disability. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the uptake of teleservices within the industry, and the importance of digital skills for the workforce and their clients is highlighted in the following quotes from the reviewed literature.

[The] research found that organisations in the aged care, disability services, and emergency relief sectors adapted rapidly in order to continue meeting their clients’ needs and continue pursuit of their respective missions during the COVID-19 crisis. The process of innovation served to demonstrate the benefits of flexibility for clients, staff, and the broader organisation, and the importance of technological skills and infrastructure in the modern world. (Service Innovation Deep Dive: Capturing and Leveraging Learnings from Service Innovation during COVID-19)

Research on telepractice for the family and relationship service sector is emerging, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020…To support practitioners, services may need to invest in developing the technological skills of practitioners and their understanding of the benefits of its use. (The Use of Telepractice in the Family and Relationship Services Sector)

Both clients and staff noted the potential of telepractice to expand the reach of services as well as deliver support in a more flexible and accessible way. The benefits of this for vulnerable groups, such as those living rurally, are well documented. However, the rapid digitalisation catalysed by COVID-19 has also “highlighted the broad implications of the digital divide”. Disparities in digital literacy, access to reliable internet, and ownership of devices or hardware exclude some people from accessing telehealth services. (Necessity as the Catalyst of Change: Exploring Client and Provider Perspectives of Accelerated Implementation of Telehealth by a Regional Australian Community Service Organisation during COVID-19 Restrictions)

COVID-19 focused attention on the need for organisations to apply plain English principles to their communication with employees and members of the community…We produced a permanent online course for teachers and school administrators to help them communicate clearly with parents and carers.

Once we realised the need for trainers to become instant experts in key learning platforms such as Zoom, 26TEN ran three training sessions for Tasmanian adult literacy practitioners. (26TEN: Tasmania’s Strategy for Adult Literacy & Numeracy: Annual Progress Report 2020)

Utilities

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 2021 industry outlooks:

The ESI Generation industry is increasing its use of automation and digitalisation. Sensors and digital devices are being deployed to diagnose issues and optimise operations. Installation of such equipment highlights the role of data analytics and digital literacy. Digital innovations provide real-time information about electricity consumption, potential power outages and fault identification. Insights provided by data analytics and AI can also improve decision making processes in the energy generation sector. (ESI Generation IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook)

Customers’ interaction with the grid is radically changing due to the increasing adoption of [Distributed Energy Resources] DERs which enable consumers to store surplus energy, inject it back into the grid, or buy and sell energy from platforms such as peer-to-peer (p2p) trading platforms where energy is traded between consumers at an agreed price...These kinds of changes require the workforce to be more focused on their interactions with customers as they are becoming more digitally interconnected. Digital strategies and digital skills will play a significant part in enhancing customer experience and improving services. (ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook)

The increasing development of gas projects and the implementation of new automation and digital technologies will require the workforce to have the right skills and capabilities in automation technologies. Skills related to remote operations, robotics, wireless networks, data analytics, maintenance and operation of connected technologies will be fundamental to successful the implementation of automation in the gas industry. (Gas IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook)

Data analytics enables digital simulation and modelling of water networks to collect real-time data from control systems and sensors, optimise operations, forecast the behaviour of water networks, and predict issues. Big Data analytics can also predict supply and demand availability to ensure water security and identify the need for infrastructure upgrades. The [Internet of Things] IoT in the water sector is focused on Intelligent Water Metering…Intelligent Asset Management and Operations…and Data Acquisition and Insights. VR technology is being used as a training tool to assist with safety and site inductions and to enable training in the current pandemic environment. The workforce will require skills for new digital and remote technologies and data analysis/management. (Water IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook)

Updated: 29 Mar 2022
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