The week Australia used the language of skills

Australia’s National Skills Week in August was another opportunity to adopt the language of skills rather than degrees or qualifications. The good news? Australia is becoming increasingly fluent.

The language of skills is something relatively new to Australia. Whereas in the past we would look at degrees or qualifications as the fundamental building block of a person’s career – and an employer’s workforce – underlying skills are rising to become the new measure of employee capacity.

National Skills Week in August was another opportunity to raise the profile of skills-based thinking. The annual focal point for the promotion of the VET system, it took the dual themes of ‘Real Skills for Real Careers’ and ‘Succeed Your Way’ to encourage more young people to give VET careers a try.

Skills a priority in National Skills Week

The language of skills is important in this effort because it allows us to more clearly define exactly what ingredients our economy, industry or even single employer workforce is missing, what specific gaps we need to fill now, and get more granular on how that is likely to change into the future.

On an individual level, it allows us to conceive of career success as a pathway through a matrix of complementary skills. Seen through this lens, the path into a chosen vocation becomes a lifelong journey of skills attainment that can constantly augment and refresh an individual’s employability.

Skills-based thinking also helps VET providers respond with relevant education and training.

The language of skills was used heavily during National Skills Week. The NSW Business Chamber, for example, used the language of skills in the release of its 2019 Workforce Skills Survey. In doing so, it was able to quantify that over half of NSW businesses are experiencing skills shortages in 2019.

“While the number of businesses experiencing a skill shortage in 2019 is slightly lower than in 2017, those businesses experiencing skill shortages are carrying more job vacancies – 82,000 in 2019, compared to 54,000 in 2017,” the NSW Business Chamber’s CEO Stephen Cartwright said.

National Skills Week director Brian Wexham used the language of skills during the week to predict a ‘perfect storm’ for skills into the future, saying we need another 17,000 cybersecurity workers over 5 years, 240,000 commercial airline pilots globally over 20 years, and more aged care workers.

“We’ve now got 4000 people who are aged over 100; that’s forecast by 2050 to be 46,000,” he said.

Not long before in August, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)’s  ‘Vision for Vocational Education and Training’ communique also united the states and national government in continued advocacy and cooperation using the language of skills to move our VET system forward.

“Australia’s capacity to grow, compete and thrive in the increasingly global economy is dependent on employers and all individuals, regardless of background or circumstance, being able to access and use the right skills at the right time,” the COAG communique said at the time.

A language of learning

The language of skills is essentially the same as that of lifelong learning. By thinking in terms of underlying skills instead of degrees and qualifications, we open up the opportunity for students and workers to see their learning journey in a way that is more agile and equipped for the future.

We believe fluency in the language of skills will increase into the future. With the rise of micro-credentialling and digital badging likely to meet workforce needs for filling distinct skills gaps and for more rapid reskilling for changing roles, the ‘ability to do’ is likely to become a  badge of honour.

Whether it is through VET in schools, through tertiary private or public vocational education and training, or even through workplace training organised by an employer, individuals are likely to grow by following skills-based pathways that can unlock new opportunities for them over time.