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Where next for skills?

How business-led upskilling can drive productivity and growth

The pace of technological change triggered by COVID-19 is unprecedented. Businesses are looking to digitalisation and automation to drive growth as economies recover from the impacts of the pandemic. To meet the demands of this accelerated technological change, with the added complication of border closures, business needs to shift its focus to reskilling and upskilling employees. Inaction is not an option. What Australia needs now is a business-led recovery that’s built on upskilling and supported by government initiatives.

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Upskilling to Reboot Australia

Upskilling is key to growth and an inclusive society

Before COVID-19 Australia faced a skills challenge but the pandemic has made that challenge more complex and more urgent. In June PwC surveyed CFO’s around the world and found roughly half plan to make remote work a permanent option.  And 52% said they plan to accelerate automation and digital ways of working as employees return to work.  And with travel bans in place, the Australian government is expecting an 85% decrease in net migration this financial year, impacting our access to skilled migrants.

The accelerated digitalisation of business will continue to characterise the post COVID environment and will have broader implications for society.  It will exacerbate the digital divide making it increasingly harder for individuals to overcome barriers of access, affordability, and importantly digital ability. Workers who have the opportunity to upskill and improve their digital acumen on the job will have a significant advantage over those who do not. 

In Where next for skills? We hear the view of workers.  On the eve of the pandemic we surveyed Australian workers asking if their employer had provided them with skills training in the past 12 months? 72% said no.

We also asked if their employer was providing them with upskilling in areas that were relevant to their role? Only 28% said yes. This is despite 78% of Australian CEOs saying that availability of key skills was a top threat to growth. This figure continues to grow year on year.


Before the pandemic Australia had a skills problem. That has become more complex because of the remote and distributed nature of our workforce and more urgent given the economic impacts of the pandemic.


Business can lead Australia’s upskilling effort 

To meet the demands of rapid technology change without skilled migration, business needs to shift its focus to reskilling and upskilling employees. Instead of thinking about the ‘war on talent’ we need to think about building an ecosystem of talent. Technology and accelerated digitalisation will not deliver the promised productivity gains if there are not enough workers with the right skills, and the ability to apply them. 

To achieve this business needs to:

See skills as an investment, not an expense:

If people are a priority for business, then skilling them must be a priority, too.

Determine the skills required to thrive in an accelerated digital environment:
Organisations need to identify and understand their skills needs. This is not just ‘big’ technical skills of the future it’s also about the core transferable (or enterprise) skills that enable digital know-how.

Rethink and digitise traditional learning pathways:
Rethink learning programs to enable workers to learn fast, and to apply their learning faster.

Unleash citizen-led innovation:
This is about creating a shared movement.

Governments also have a key role in upskilling including

  • work with business to deliver a national micro-credentialing system  
  • targeting at-risk roles and addressing Australia’s digital divide

  • reprioritising migration for technical and transferable skills, as required for a digital world


To enable a Business-led upskilling effort government need to;

Work with business to deliver more responsive upskilling opportunities:

Business and government should work in partnership to enable individuals to iteratively upgrade their skills in a way that protects them against the rising tide of automation, and allows them to progress through their career with a lifetime of learning. 

Reprioritise migration:


When borders reopen skilled migration must be reprioritised  for technical and enterprise skills required for a digital world. There is an opportunity to more actuely drive the system to support skills development. This does not mean more skilled migrants for the sake of having more; care needs to be taken to better match volumes and skills with the needs of the industry.

Place greater priority on policy to address Australia’s digital divide:

This must be managed to overcome barriers of access, affordability, and digital ability. Post-COVID-19 digital acceleration will further exacerbate the digital divide and impact every industry. Workers who have the opportunity to upskill and improve their digital literacy on the job will have significant advantage over those who do not.

Deliver a national credentialing system that embraces shorter-form credentials:

Micro-credentialing is an obvious area where government and industry can partner to achieve better outcomes. 

Contact us

Jeremy Thorpe

Chief Economist & Partner, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8266 4611

Peter Wheeler

Partner, People & Organisation Consulting, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (3) 8603 6504

Christie Rall

Director, People & Organisation Consulting, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (3) 8603 2260

Tim Rawlings

Director and Head of Training Product Development, PwC's Skills for Australia, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 429 401 110

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