In a world in which technology advances by the day and automation steadily reduces the scope for traditional employment, what kind of skills are the world’s workforces going to need in coming years and how can they best be acquired?

This question was put under the microscope by the 800 international delegates to the World Congress of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics held in Melbourne between 8 and 10 October, one of the largest professional concentrations seen in Australia. There were 140 speakers and 44 concurrent sessions running, all addressing various facets of the theme Preparing for the Skills Future, Now.

Scope Global was at the heart of the discussions with a team of six highly qualified representatives, including one from each of the skills development programs Scope Global manages in the Pacific on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Scope Global delegation was made up of Anthony Bailey and Sally Baker as facilitators, Sherol George, Disability Inclusion Coordinator with the Vanuatu Skills Partnership; Bannau Tiiata, Deputy Principal (Academic) at the Kiribati Institute of Technology and Kepreen Ve’etutu, Skills Planning Coordinator with Tonga Skills for Inclusive Economic Growth. Alex Devine, disability adviser with the Kiribati Facility Skills for Employment Program, was an additional panellist.

Under the title ’Catalysts for Change: Skills development and skills sector reform in the South Pacific‘ the Scope Global delegation presented two sessions addressing three specific areas of the Congress theme: The Changing Nature of WorkThe Future of Professional Teaching and Technical Learning; and Ensuring No One is Left Behind. The speakers explained how their programs, all of which are already promoting inclusive economic growth in the formal and informal economies, are facing up to the challenges of adapting skills to a changing market and are seeking to improve the match between demand and supply of skills for economic growth.

For the Scope Global delegation, as for all participants, the Congress was of course as much about listening as talking. Kepreen Ve’etutu from Tonga said she would take away from the Congress a number of ’key messages’ and singled out digitalisation as a field of particular interest. She summarised its effect on skills supply as “digitalisation demands people with a well-rounded skills set, with less specialisation and more generic skills; it forces us to expand human capabilities in new skills directions and it will make lifelong learning imperative.” Kepreen added that the Congress had shown her that “foundation skills matter even more than in the past, and higher quality is needed.”

“The key to all our futures,” said Kepreen, “is partnership and collaboration – not competition.” She added that the Congress had also provided her with another ‘key’ – that of ‘learner mobility’ and ‘flexibility’. This means that “it’s not your job to ‘capture’ learners, it’s your job to ‘enable’ them.”

Sherol George from Vanuatu Skills Partnership felt that artificial intelligence “and how it is the future of VET” was the subject she had learnt most about at the Congress. In Vanuatu artificial intelligence is “almost unheard of” and she found the challenge it presented “both interesting and shocking”. Sherol said she could not help but think “of the impacts this will have on the lives and livelihood of islanders. However,” she added, “we have to prepared to embrace it.”  

As a disability specialist Sherol was encouraged by the evidence from the Congress that “proper support is contributing to changing the lives of people with disabilities for the better – a subject that is close to my heart and area of work.”

Speaking from an academic perspective, Bannau Tiiata found the Congress session on ‘Changing Skills Requirements and the Implications for Education and Training Policies’ of particular value for her work at the Kiribati Institute of Technology. She said the session “was relevant in terms of trying to plan ahead and to see what skills requirements the Institute would think and plan for” to prepare students in its training programs “with the right skills and with the right training programs to meet the evolving changes with technology at work.” This also had relevance, she pointed out, when “considering the labour mobility schemes.”

Other important conclusions to emerge from the Congress for Pacific Island delegates included the recognition that, despite changes, three main types of occupation will remain in demand: systems integrators; tradespeople and (in certain industries) technicians; and occupations that require personal involvement and emotional intelligence.

A further conclusion was that the most important qualities for skilled personnel in the future are resilience and entrepreneurial skills, “the ability to persuade and convince others,” as one delegate put it. “Cultural and global competence, optimism and self-direction will all be increasingly in demand. As one keynote speaker said “We need ‘renaissance’ women and men.”

Scope Global supports a range of skills for growth activities on behalf of the Australian Government, including the Kiribati Institute of Technology, Tonga Skills, the Vanuatu Skills Partnership and Sri Lanka Skills for Inclusive Growth.

Through supporting these initiatives, we are working to share knowledge across programs and the region, support Pacific Island leaders, and contribute to inclusive and sustainable development outcomes across the region

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