Responding to Industry 4.0: How VET Providers Can Integrate Digital Skills into the Delivery of Education
Industry 4.0 is changing the world as we know it, requiring a higher level of digital literacy across all roles and industries. To meet the demands of the changing labour market, vocational education and training (VET) providers must also undergo some changes.
We discuss the increasing need for education providers to increase their own digital literacy, the need to embed digital technologies into the learning experience, and the need to improve the digital proficiency of students today.
Addressing Industry 4.0 and the Move Towards Lifelong Learning
Industry 4.0 refers to the ongoing automation of the workplace through digital technologies and artificial intelligence. VET educators play a crucial role in appropriately skilling the workforce of the future, through the development of their own digital literacy and the integration of digital skills into the educational system itself.
According to a KPMG report, only 44% of surveyed business owners had a “more than basic” understanding of Industry 4.0. This suggests that the Australian workforce, and the young people on their way to entering the workforce, must become more aware of Industry 4.0 and its demands.
How familiar are you with the term the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’?
I have an excellent understanding of the concept
I have an good understanding of the concept
I have basic understanding of the concept
I am only familiar with the term, not the concept
I have never heard of the concept
Another change observed in the education sector is a shift towards lifelong learning, with more people looking to consistently upskill throughout their lives.
As a result, VET providers are now finding themselves competing with micro-credential and short course providers, who are increasingly specialising in these modern technologies and teaching to the demands of a technologically advanced workplace. The VET sector now faces the challenge of teaching using increasingly sophisticated technologies, as well as equipping VET students with the digital skills they need to excel in the roles of the future.
How Education Providers are Responding to Industry 4.0
Online education is leading the charge when it comes to the digital skilling of Australians. There are more than 1,000 online education providers in Australia, offering flexible and responsive study options.
As a response, traditional education providers have also begun offering online classes, which has been further accelerated by the need for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How Education Providers Can Improve Their Own Digital Literacy
We are currently experiencing a unique state of affairs, in which students often have greater digital competency than some educators. To prepare students for the workforce of the future, educators must also be digitally competent. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this gap strikingly apparent, with many excellent teachers struggling with technologies that young people are already familiar with.
The role of the “digital integrator” has emerged as a response to this issue. According to Michelle Circelli of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), this term refers to “someone who is both a competent user of technology, and can also translate that into being competent in teaching technology.” Education providers should consider rolling out online training courses aimed specifically for VET educators to improve the confidence and competency with emerging tech and online technologies and bridge the gap between developing technology.
What Education Providers Can Do to Incorporate Digital Skills Into Course Delivery
The NCVER recently released a good practice guide entitled “Incorporating Digital Skills into VET Delivery” covering ways that VET providers can work to gradually transition into Industry 4.0. Here are some key strategies for education and training providers to consider:
Niching down in the units of competency, skill sets and short courses that are on offer
An efficient way of promoting digital skills is to develop units of competency which can be used across a variety of occupational groups, rather than creating new units for each. A way that core and shared skills can be identified is by requiring each industry reference committee to report against digital skill requirements. It may also be possible to adapt current units of competency so that they are relevant to other sectors.
Integrating digital skills into foundation skills
In addition to creating the aforementioned units of competency, digital skills can also be embedded into the vocational education system by being woven in with foundation skills. This would elevate digital skills to the same significance as literacy and numeracy, accurately mirroring their importance in many fields. According to Steve Davis of NCVER, digital skills need to be viewed as core topics rather than electives: “In the real world, the digital impact is core for many of our lives. It’s not something we can pick and choose from.” As such, education needs to reflect the preeminence of digital skills in day-to-day life.
Collaborating with employers
To accurately meet the digital needs of Australia’s future workforce, VET educators can begin establishing ties with industry. This will offer a real-world insight into the skills employers are actually seeking, allowing for more relevant VET delivery. While VET teaches basic concepts, the workplace elevates an individual’s proficiency and competency. In their good practice guide, the NCVER suggests that “employers can play a role in the development of course content by offering workplace experience or work integrated learning, as well as ensuring any simulations in class are relevant to the industry and represent current best practices.”
With its ties to industry, the VET sector is in a unique position to ensure the students of today have the digital skills necessary to excel in the workforce of the future.
By improving digital literacy throughout the institution and incorporating digital skills into course delivery, the vocational education and training system can better meet the needs of Australian learners and the economy as a whole.
Interested in some further reading? Check out: Realising the Potential of Education in Education: A Strategy for Education Providers and the Technology Industry.