2040: Skilling Ecospaces Driven by Partners in Social Workforce Plan

2040: Skilling Ecospaces Driven by Partners in Social Workforce Plan

It is 2040 and industry visions set twenty years ago are now being realised. At that time digital disruption, was only just taking hold. Prosperity through productivity and growth was threatened amidst fears about future of jobs and of socially exclusive economies.

However, industry recognised that capital deepening and increased competitiveness could be achieved by not only replacing workers with machines, but by building innovative capital – developing well-educated and well-skilled workers. It was considered that, for innovation to occur, physical capital must be complemented by qualifications1

 This vision has been successful because of a social workforce plan overseen by a coalition of industry, tertiary sector networks including universities, government and community.

Part of the plan centred on the need for businesses and universities to closely integrate in order to develop and maintain a broad skills base, keyed to fast changing workplaces. There were discussions about the need for tertiary education ecosystems, with a view that ‘the ecosystem for sharing knowledge and imparting skills needs to be shaped by the four principles of: advancing innovation, fairness, efficiency and civil society.’² Companies now seek multiple arrangements with universities globally, cognisant of the advantage provided to them of graduates familiar with the workplace, its technologies, practices, cultures and systems. The various collaborative arrangements also drive research and development initiatives. Changed tertiary sector networks facilitate cooperation- a seamless pathway of post-secondary education and training exists for access by employers and individuals.³

As universities saw the need to become more outward looking and to learn from partners4 a paradigm shift emerged. There was recognition that universities were members of a broader social and economic network; that benefits would come from continually finding ways to join with partners to innovate and achieve results for all stakeholders. Partners to the visionary workforce plan have, however, held fast to the role of universities in developing higher critical enquiry. In 2040 the cultures of industry and the university network have become much more intertwined with community.

The leadership and integration of industry and the university network has fuelled innovation and helped shape economic development, boosted inclusion and equipped graduates with inclusive culture capabilities to do the same. Clear social goals ensure that opportunities for disadvantaged cohorts lead to greater participation in education and the workforce.

Around twenty years ago in 2019, deep collaborations were appearing between large businesses and universities. Examples then included significant university partnerships with businesses such as BAE, Lockheed Martin, CSL, Cisco and Siemens, often involving physical campus collaborations. These leading partnerships helped to model the now ubiquitous arrangements existing across the skilling eco-system between companies, education providers and the community. Learning by doing has become a fundamental principle driving variations of work integrated learning and work-based learning.

Skilling Ecospaces (SES) are now widespread in companies. They come with certified recognition and support from government. SES take many forms and can involve many partners. Within some large companies they are substantial physical spaces where university-enrolled student workers learn and where testing labs for research and development thrive. Other SES exist virtually within companies and are registered only for chunks of training undertaken by existing workers. Global and local universities bring different offerings. Negotiations around student learning respect flexibility needed by companies.

Projects, workshops with a group of student-workers solving company problems, virtual placements are some examples of activities. It is common for university students to be employed by companies as they undertake their tertiary education: considered an effective way for entrants to develop broad enterprise capabilities as they develop deep knowledge.

Whether physical or virtual, SES in companies are not only open to existing workers and university students. They can be registered for learning by individuals from other education and training networks, the self-employed and community network clients. Where SES experiences are not in the workplace they are designed to be dominated by experimentation and play around activities that reflect the company’s workplace, equipment, processes and practices; to be engaging and social, and to be anchored by outcomes and assessments.5

Social pledges made by all SES include the provision of mentors for all learners. It is recognised that all individuals develop through the assistance of others – the basis for social cohesion.6

Both industry and universities have reorganised workforce roles to maximise relationships and skills development. Companies have integrated mentoring capabilities into roles; universities have ‘loosened’ roles while still maintaining multi-professional communities of experts.7

These experts, SES navigators, conduct much of their work with companies and external partners; they have business development capabilities and they are able to fast track activities that involve companies, students and the university working together to benefit all.

Within each SES, the company continually negotiates with its university partners a fluid list of deep knowledge areas and broader capabilities needed in order that recruits and existing workers can adapt as the company has to adapt. The digital world allows always-relevant content.

The learners use virtual assistant apps to select from a list of topics offered by partner universities that can be stacked. Every worker’s and student’s individual digital learning portfolio automatically updates each time a chunk completes, informing them of the qualifications/capability groupings towards which they are building credits. These credits are also achieved through a variety of other life-learning experiences.

With flipped classroom concepts now at a new level, learners watch company operations virtually or physically. Sophisticated learning assistance, based on advanced augmented reality, is utilised by the learners. Existing workers who are training mix with university students, face-to-face or virtually, to complete activities that solve problems for the company.

The university’s SES navigator uses various forms of communication to nudge reflection on activities. While it is still maintained that developing the capabilities of communication, team work, problem-solving and adaptability will always require some level of face- to-face interaction, learners can find themselves being taught by and studying in teams with cobots.

A condition placed on the SES involves development for the broader community. Activities that are beneficial to the company’s goals are designed in conjunction with the university’s SES navigator. The government partner recognises encouraging underserved student groups leads to a more inclusive and richer economy. It recognises SES take on additional risks in fostering disadvantaged cohorts, making them eligible to receive financial incentives.

Since the industry visions and social workforce plan were formed twenty years ago profound cultural shifts have occurred in companies and universities in recognition that in building a strong economy they will succeed if the broader community is nurtured.


1 European Commission, The Future of Work: empowering people, Social Agenda No. 53, November 2018, http://europa.eu/!Qb38gF

2Stephen Parker, Andrew Dempster, Mark Warburton, Reimagining Tertiary Education, KPMG, 2018

3PwC and Australian Higher Education Industry Association, Australian Higher Education Workforce of the Future, 2016

4G. Davis in Geoff Sharrock, Organising, Leading and Managing 21st Century Universities, Visions for Australian Tertiary Education, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne, February 2017

5The Tech Edvocate, 7 Gamification strategies for corporate training, https://www.thetechedvocate.org

6Andre Perry, Not enough students have mentors and we must change that, The Hechinger Report, October 2018.

7Geoff Sharrock, Organising, Leading and Managing 21st Century Universities, Visions for Australian Tertiary Education, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne, February 2017

Megan Lilly is the Head of Workforce Development for The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), In this role Megan is responsible for the development of all education and training policy as well as member service delivery across the breadth of workforce development. Prior to this she was the Chief Executive Officer of Business Services Training Australia, the national industry advisory board for the business services and related industry sectors. Before joining the national board, she held several senior management positions in various Victorian TAFE institutes.

Ms Lilly is a member of the Australian Industry Skills Committee (alternating Director), Chair of Manufacturing Skills Australia, Deputy Chair – Worldskills Australia, member of the Australian College of Educators, member of the Salvation Army Disability Employment Services Advisory Committee, th AQF Review Panel and the Naval shipbuilding College – Delivery Advisory Committee. She has been a member of the Australia India Education Council, including Chairing the Skills Working Group, Australian Qualifications Framework Council, Queensland Ministerial Commission, Victorian Skills Commission and Australia Pacific Technical College.

The Cambrian Explosion of Technology and Its Impact on Education

April 9, 2019

Reflections of a Vice-Chancellor

April 9, 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *