Monday, March 19, 2018

Educating the Future Workforce

The Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers has invited submissions on the impact of technological change. Here are some thoughts on the subject of how well the education system suits the need for a more flexible workforce.

Australia needs an education system which is short sharp and mobile.

The Australian education system already allows for work-ready learning across schools, VET, and university. Some minor adjustments are needed to make the system more flexible:

1. Strengthen the VET system and have it blended with secondary schooling at the lower end and university at the upper end. Students should be able to complete a VET qualification at secondary school, go on to further study in the VET system (while working part-time) and then to university.

2. Make the university system more flexible: Encourage universities to offer nested, standardized programs which offer sub-degree entry and exit points. Students should be able to start with a sub-degree program and then continue their studies for a degree. Most university courses are already blended, but government policy and university practice need to recognize that most university students now, in effect, studying on-line so they can work at the same time.

Teachers computing skills should be developed as part of their standard formal education, not some ad-hoc bolt-on program. Teachers teaching computing should be full, formally, dual-qualified in computing and teaching. Australia already has better systems for doing this than the UK.

Students should be encouraged to undertake STEM subjects at school, through subjects which address real-world issues of concern to students and having computer professional role models with whom  students can identify. This requires, for example, project-based work addressing issues such as climate change.

Innovation and hacking competitions can help make make STEM look exciting for students. 

Rather than focusing on traditional campus-based three-year university degrees, I suggest policy should prioritize on-line, nested, programs which offer sub-degree entry and exit points, with the flexibility to study off-campus.

Soft skills can be addressed in specific university courses and project work. Soft skills figure prominently in the ANU's "TechLauncher" programs of groups project work, which I help teach. 

Techlauncher students undertake team building exercises and have mentors, tutors, and clients with industry experience. Some of this looks like fun, where students play with Lego, but there is also a lot of hard work on team and client relationship skills. E-portfolios can also be used.

Also, we need teachers in schools, VET, and university, who have training and formal qualifications in how to teach these skills. This is particularly a problem in universities where academic staff have higher research degrees, but minimal teacher training. Academics need formal teaching qualifications.

Diversity can be improved by offering STEM subjects which address real-world issues of concern to students and having computer professional role models who students can identify with. This requires, for example, female computing teachers.

As well as students fresh out of school, the same techniques can be used for re-skilling adults. On-line and blended learning, incorporating recognition of prior learning (RPL) and recognition of concurrent learning (RCL) are particularly useful. E-portfolios can be used for ensuring skills standards are met. Australia's VET system was set up with this need in mind.

For more on this, see my book  "Digital Teaching In Higher Education:  Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment".

Disclaimer: Tom Worthington is a computer professional, who advises on using technology for teaching and also does some part-time teaching of computing at tertiary institutions. While an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the Australian National University and a member of the Professional Education Governance Committee of the Australian Computer Society, his views do not necessarily reflect those of either organization.


  1. I do hope you are going to submit this to the Committee. spot on.

    1. See: Worthington, Tom. (2018, March). Educating the Future Workforce, Submission 145, Inquiry into the impact of technological and other change on the future of work and workers in Australia, Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, Australian Parliament. URL