Where to next: Beyond the skills gap

Tertiary Talk - June 2020

There has been extensive work in recent years to build more inclusive undergraduate cohorts, domestic and international. Now there is a focus on a reinvigorated vocational education sector. But we also have a population of graduate learners who have shown us they can succeed in higher education and in the workforce. And they, like all of us, are focused on employability. With the challenges we are now facing post COVID-19, this working population needs our attention to continue to engage in formal learning to drive productivity – in cities, and in the regions, and across all the industries in which we work, as we move beyond the skills gap.

We know the future of work is coming. But are we prepared?

Technology is ushering us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, changing the way businesses create and capture value. Artificial intelligence, digital algorithms and data analytics have moved from science fiction to reality in our workplaces. Deloitte Australia’s study, The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human, found that while jobs are changing in nature because of automation, they will not disappear altogether. Instead, today’s roles are being rethought and described in terms of the new and emerging skills required as jobs are increasingly augmented by technology.¹

This is not the only shift occurring. Due to scientific advances over time, there has been a steady increase in life expectancy, with the majority of children born in a developed country today expected to live to more than one hundred years of age.² Increasing our longevity will also change the way we work: the traditional linear three-stage life (of education, career and retirement) will give way to a multi-stage life resulting in multiple transitions in and out of work, education and retirement.³

These shifts have significant implications for the education and training needs of the workforce.⁴ In New Zealand we have high levels of graduate attainment, with approximately 26% of the population aged between 25 and 64 years of age holding at least a bachelor’s degree.⁵ While an undergraduate qualification may be a solid foundation for initial employment, it is unlikely to sustain us throughout the course of our longer lives. At various points in their careers, workers will need to reskill and upskill to keep pace with the changing nature of work and the associated demands of their jobs.

To better understand workers’ view on the skills gap, our Australian firm surveyed workers who have at least obtained a bachelors degree to establish their current and emerging skills needs and how they thought their skills could be developed. We wanted to understand their attitudes towards formal learning, and the barriers to their participation.

Three key findings emerged:

  • Mind the skills gap: Post-bachelor workers know change is coming and recognise the need to develop skills for current and future jobs, particularly problem solving, innovative thinking, customer service, and analysis. The majority (58%) believe that having a formal certification of their skills is valuable to current and future employers, informing employers’ hiring and promotion decisions.
  • Dollars and sense: Affordability, flexibility and industry reputation are the most important factors driving post-bachelor workers’ choice of course and provider. Around 44% of post-bachelor workers are current or future learners - they are currently undertaking formal learning or plan to do so in the future. The majority prefer short courses (54%), postgraduate qualifications (49%), and professional accreditations (18%).
  • Recognition first: While 56% of post-bachelor workers are not planning to undertake formal learning, they would change their mind if certain conditions are met. Approximately 71% of those not interested in formal learning would be more likely to consider it if their prior learning or prior experience is recognised thereby reducing the amount of study required to obtain a certification. A smaller proportion of this group (41%) expressed interest in an assessment-only model to certify their existing skills.

These findings are positive. Post-bachelor workers have expressed a strong appetite for further formal learning. We recommend four key actions to increase participation:

  • Credit where credit is due: More robust recognition of their skills to fast track completion, through development of quality assured mechanisms to assess and credit competencies developed through prior experience. 
  • My pace, my place: Enable workers to learn, where, when and how they live. Provide flexibility that enables learners to engage, take a break, pick up again and submit assessments when it suits their other work and life commitments when feasible.

    Deliver learning at the places convenient to learners, including where they work, supported by employer and provider partnerships that retain and upskill talent at scale.
  • Stack and pack: Provide micro leaning options that can stack towards qualifications. Credit or recognition that post-bachelor workers can bank until they need it.
  • Show the value: Education working on the value and advantages of formal learning in a changing world. Promote quality standards and industry credibility that leads to career advantage.

Read the full article on the Deloitte Australia site.

End notes

1. Deloitte Insights, The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human, Building the Lucky Country, Seventh Edition, 2019.

2. Gratton, L. and Scott, A., The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, 2016.

3. Ibid.

4. Deloitte, Higher education for a changing world: Ensuring the 100-life is a better life, 2018.


Did you find this useful?