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Seeking zero wasted potential in a war for talent

The current battles of skills shortages and the wider ongoing war for talent are creating an environment where much greater workforce intelligence is needed. It is an environment where workforce strategy and AI are converging as inputs to meet a need for improved workforce management optimisation for all stakeholders.

This development in wider human resource management, calls for a greater alignment and integration of the skill development of workforces and skills needs of employers. It has profound implications for governments in managing economies and societies, employers preparing for adjustments in work practices and human resource needs for them, and for members of the workforce and those entering it. Its implications and opportunities for universities and organisations involved in lifelong learning are significant.

For a number of years, all stakeholders in the skills and learning sector have grappled with the concept of the “future of work”.  It has been a symbolic expression and concept about the idea that the patterns of work on which traditional models of tertiary education were based would change. The argument has been that our courses, learning environments, and partnerships would have to change to meet them.

There will always be changes in the nature of work and the skills it calls for, but in terms of how the expression was first coined, it is now redundant. Work has changed. It is different already. Employers need skills and capability, with flexibility, from agile workforces of lifelong learners. They need that now. They left the world of offering lifelong jobs as careers, to graduates that had qualified for life for professions, a while ago now.

The offerings by universities of education for graduates seeking jobs within careers, has changed little and certainly not enough, to keep up with how work has changed already.

Employer recruitment has accelerated beyond seeking a graduate workforce. It has become an ongoing task of securing flexible skills and capabilities. The cycle of hiring and firing staff for jobs is wasteful. It causes enormous wasted potential among workers and workplaces and has significant ripple effects among work cultures and employee communities.

This is happening in the midst of existential challenges to the traditional higher education system. These arise from falls in student demand and sector sentiment, and growth in non-completion by students incurring increasing debt. The capabilities of graduates and dynamic work place skills needs have never been so mismatched.

Global birth rate gaps, and consequential declining populations, highlight the critical need to optimize our use of human resources globally. Preventing talent waste, striving for zero wasted potential, and ensuring meaningful work, is a mission and purpose that aligns with societal needs.

AI has been applied as a tool by Reejig to align employers’ skill requirements with the capabilities of an agile workforce. Using the technology in this way may rebalance the disruption it will otherwise cause in the workforce. Because of this, using AI to match work skills is a mission that has attracted financial investment and customers for Rejig to provide services that solve this problem. This presents opportunities for universities.

This form of workforce strategy and intelligence needs skills profiling of complete workforces at a much more granular levels than of traditional university qualifications. The idea that we can evidence employee skills and select workforce capabilities based on single point in time degree qualifications at the conclusion of initial education has long passed.

We now have a workforce that needs continuous accumulation of skills, that can be continuously credentialed and profiled. It requires a means of us being guided to skills updating, by focused analysis and advice, on our ongoing lifelong learning needs.  These will be vastly different from all learners selecting from a plethora of learning opportunities and courses that a search engine optimisation of marketing spend decides to offer us.  And it will be far more than simple public service directories of course provision.  These are not the places that learners and employees are locating themselves. The idea that if we build it they will come, for public lifelong learning directories, has not borne fruit. Just as we no longer select travel accommodation or mobility in that way.

What do universities do in this environment and context? A radical response will go way beyond offering micro credentials and digital badges. In providing for lifelong learning and skill updating needs there is a broad and fast-growing market for lifelong learning products and services with a very under-developed competitive field of current supply.

There has never been such a transformative time in the world of work and it’s resourcing with skills. The opportunity for services in lifelong learning analysis and supply is a significant growth opportunity of a new learning economy.  Achieving growth in this economy will result from the change of mindset by universities and their leaders to urgently respond to where lifelong learning demand growth is developing.

With all higher education providers under pressure, and 75% of them in Australia in deficit, capitalising on opportunities from this displacement in skills needs is a competitive opportunity.  It is meeting society, people and economic needs and the opportunity costs of not acting are acute.

With domestic demand possibly in terminal decline, not making this change would be missing the moment and there is a great leadership opportunity to embrace it. Can any university afford to waste the potential of new income streams and new ways of doing business?

First published in Campus Review on 29th November 2023.

Professor Martin Betts, Founder of HEDx

Dr Nora Koslowski, Chief Learning Innovation Officer, Melbourne Business School

Siobhan Savage, Co-founder and CEO of Reejig