In a digital world, higher education becomes a shapeshifter.

Even after graduation, continuous and life-long re-skilling and up-skilling is becoming a necessity. The difficulty for universities is to keep up with the demand for new forms of education and training as a result of the internet age. Brick-and-mortar institutions are facing digital expansion and are struggling to stay ahead.

And for the current workforce, advances in this world of digital transformation simply threaten their jobs. A skills shortage has arisen and will continue to deepen if workers cannot access new and relevant skills.

Big data, business automation, and intelligence solutions are now becoming commonplace in the vocabulary of a modern workplace. Digital literacy is critical and according to the Australian Industry Group’s 2018 Workforce Development Needs Survey, Australian companies are struggling to find aptly trained individuals.


Australia’s workforce

According to the survey, companies are beginning to take on more apprentices and those fresh out of school. 48.1 percent of employers in the manufacturing sector are employing apprentices and trainees rather than qualified university students. They concede that they cannot find adequately skilled graduates for the positions they need to fill.

Source: Pixabay

The companies themselves are endeavoring to train their own staff. And for their more formal qualifications, they encourage them to study externally, but part time, alongside their full time work.

To this end employers are familiarizing their workers with new digital technologies and putting managers in place to facilitate the training.

According to the report, technicians and trades workers are the most in-demand skilled labor in the country, but are also named as the least prepared for the oncoming digital transformation of the workplace.


Graduates getting less pay?

School leavers will be opting to do shorter vocational courses as the future of work alters. So says the Grattan Institute, who published a report about an impending decline of university graduate pay premiums.

In the past it was a non-issue; if a graduate made it out of university, his/her job and pay prospects were much higher when compared with a technical and vocational practitioner. But now, professional jobs in a number of industries are drying up and the ‘graduate premium pay’ is dwindling, according to the report.

Higher Education Program Director at the Grattan Institute, Andrew Norton, referred to statistics that pointed to the fact that 41.9 percent of 19 year olds in Australia were in university. He said:

“This feeds the argument that too many people are going to uni. People are taking very high risks in going to uni. My concern is there is a cultural juggernaut pushing young people into higher education when a more dispassionate analysis tells us it is not necessarily such a good idea. I think a logical extension is reviewing vocational education and training. Some people may choose the VET alternative over higher ed and that’s a good thing. A young guy with an ATAR of 60 would have earned more with a diploma than a graduate degree.”

The report shows that a woman with a bachelor degree in 2006 could expect to earn AU$15,000 more than a school leaver. And now - the report states the premium went to less than AU$13,000 in just a matter of years.

Universities Australia Chief Executive, Catriona Jackson, disputes the statistics and insists university graduates are still seeing an earning premium. She told Perth Now:

“While there has been a slight decline in the size of that advantage over a decade, that advantage is still pretty significant.”

What the report does not factor in, however, are alternative education and training options that ensure students can immediately offset the debt they accrue at university. Innovative online education institutions offer degrees alongside full time work and they also provide ongoing professional development.


Works Cited

Hiatt, Bethany. “Uni Degrees 'Aren't Paying off' with Jobs.” PerthNow, PerthNow, 16 Sept. 2018, www.perthnow.com.au/news/education/uni-degrees-losing-worth-in-jobs-market-find-grattan-institute-report-ng-b88962367z.

“Home.” Australian Industry Group, www.aigroup.com.au/.

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