Research finds technology changes outpacing workers

Artificial intelligence, automation and other cutting edge technologies are transforming the workplace, but workers feel left behind due to lack of professional development

Digital technology is transforming work, yet Australian workers don’t feel equipped for the changes because of a lack of training, according to new Swinburne research. 

The Centre for the New Workforce and YouGov at Swinburne University of Technology found 61 per cent of Australian workers don’t think their current skillset is suited for the next five years of work. The survey, which polled a nationally representative sample of 1060 working Australians in late November, in partnership with YouGov, wanted to understand how Australian workers are preparing for work being transformed by digital technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

When asked about the main barriers to learning at work, 56 per cent reported ‘not having dedicated time for learning’, while 39 per cent stated ‘unsupportive working environment where learning is stigmatised’.

“The pace of change is real and continues to accelerate in Australian workplaces. As digital technologies transform work across the economy, workers will need to continuously learn to stay ahead of the disruption curve,”  said Swinburne Centre for the New Workforce research lead and director, Dr Sean Gallagher.

The report also found 51 per cent of Australian workers spend less than one hour a week at work on any form of learning, including 20 per cent of Australian workers who do no learning at all at work. Just over one-third (34 per cent) spend between one to four hours per week on learning at work, while 15 per cent of Australian workers spend five hours a week or more learning at work.

For Gallagher, the low levels of workplace learning is a serious concern, with workers themselves saying they are falling behind and are not prepared for the digital era. 

“But bridging the capability gap does not mean employers have to lose hours of productivity from their employees each week being in expensive training courses,” he said.

Combining uniquely human skills - emotional, collaborative, creative, communication and entrepreneurial - with more advanced technical skills and higher-level cognitive skills such as decision-making gives workers a competitive advantage over technology, Gallagher said.

“Not only is the worker able to develop expertise to work effectively in the digital era, this learning actually creates new value that can enhance the competitive advantage for the organisation to avoid disruption,” he said. “And by better integrating learning into the flow of work, especially where it is increasingly collaborative, organisations will create a far more supportive workplace for learning.”

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