Employers ‘to drive retraining demand’

Australian report suggests that business economics, not workers’ survival, will drive lifelong learning boom

June 11, 2019
lifelong learning
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Lifelong learning will become increasingly entrenched not because of the unpredictability of work, but rather because employers will find it cheaper to retrain staff than replace them, according to a report.

Professional services firm Deloitte Australia has challenged labour forecasting truisms that the gig economy will take over, multiple careers will become the norm and traditional offices will be consigned to the scrapheap.

In a new analysis, Deloitte says Australians are staying in their jobs longer than ever, the rate of casualisation has not increased for a decade, self-employment is at record lows and most staff spurn opportunities to work remotely.

And despite rampant technological change, unemployment rates are at their lowest level in a decade in Europe and half a century in the US.

The report, The Path to Prosperity: Why the Future of Work Is Human, acknowledges that technology is upending skill needs. But the traits most in demand are “heart” skills such as customer service and leadership – capabilities in which “humans excel and digital technology has been less successful in automating or augmenting human effort”, the report says.

Far from making existing workers a disposable commodity, the trend will boost their stocks. “The skills that are needed are changing constantly, and recruiting to fill shortages is an expensive solution,” the report argues.

It says that by retraining current staff, employers avoid the risk of buying in the requisite skills. It cites claims that the cost of replacing a “bad hire” after six months can run to two and half times the person’s salary.

Australian businesses already spend A$4.6 billion (£2.5 billion) a year in training their workforces, the report concedes. But this is considerably less than the A$7 billion they invest in recruitment.

“The best way to avoid skills shortages in the future will be to flip the numbers – start spending on training instead of recruitment, because as skills shortages worsen, the cost of recruitment will only grow,” the report says.

The analysis says lifelong learning will largely take place on the job because formal training is too expensive – less because of tuition and living costs than the earnings people forgo while studying. Graduates are also dissatisfied with the workplace applicability of their skills, it says.

But universities have a key role to play through activities such as micro-credentialing and degree-level apprenticeships, the report adds.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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