Australian workers do not have the digital or foundation skills they need for the modern workplace, according to a report by the Australian Industry Group.
The AI Group surveyed about 300 businesses and 75 per cent of them reported skills shortages, meaning they cannot find the staff they need to fill the jobs they have.
“These are quite often in areas around the technical trades, or in jobs that require reasonably high level maths skills, or science skills, or technical education skills,” AI Group chief executive Innes Willox said.
“And particularly skills around the emerging parts of industry where they are looking to compete more, areas like skills in use of big data, automation and artificial intelligence.”
Mr Willox said the manufacturing sector is feeling the brunt, partly because it is transitioning from needing low-skilled to more advanced, digitally skilled workers.
David Fox said his business, L&A Pressure Welding, which is a member of AI Group, has felt this burden to change.
The business manufactures pressure equipment for the oil and gas industries.
“The level of trade skill is not really there and it is difficult to find tradespeople. There’s a shortage of what is out there already,” Mr Fox said.
“There’s also a gap approaching with digital, and we’re looking at how that will integrate with our products. It will take a different sort of person to be involved in that.”
The AI Group survey also found that 99 per cent of employers are affected by low levels of literacy and numeracy in their workforce and more than 60 per cent reported a lack of management and leadership capabilities.
“Particularly in trying to manage these new technologies that businesses are having to run,” Mr Willox said.
The survey showed that businesses are concerned they will not be able to compete domestically and internationally.
“So it’s becoming a race around skills much more than ever before. And that skills race is increasingly important to Australian businesses because there is a fear of being obsolete or left behind and that’s what businesses are reporting,” Mr Willox said.
Mr Willox said the pressure is now on educational institutions — of all levels — to ensure graduates have the skills they need.
That is essential, because right now there are not enough of them to meet demand.
“Employers are knocking on our door at the university asking to employ all of our graduating class … but there is a lot of unmet demand nevertheless,” Toby Walsh, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales, said.
He thinks Australia’s educational system can do better to upskill students, and has been working on changing the curriculum for the 21st century.
“We’re still very much teaching the skills for the 19th and 20th century, and the skills for tomorrow will be quite different skills,” Mr Walsh said.
“It’s clear the transformation is already taking place. We saw NAB (National Australia Bank) announce that they would lay of 6,000 people this year and hire 2,000 new people with (the) right digital skills. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen too frequently.
“That’s going to require some pretty radical transformations. I think one thing is clear, is that education doesn’t stop when you leave school, it doesn’t stop when you leave university … it will become a lifelong activity to stay ahead of the machines throughout your career.”