Claire Field on upskilling and reskilling: the differences matter


 Many of us, myself included, use the terms simultaneously and almost interchangeably as we describe the demand for new skills in the changing world of work.

This week’s Jobs and Skills Summit will look to tackle the immediate shortage of skilled workers but employers and the tertiary sector are also looking for reforms to help avoid future skill shortages. Hence, much of the pre-Summit positioning has focussed on funding people’s first post-school qualifications, particularly in VET.

What we should not miss sight of though is that the profound technological, demographic, and environmental changes we are living through will require a commitment to lifelong learning for decades to come.

As the new Federal MP for Parramatta, Andrew Charlton forecast pre-pandemic in his work at AlphaBeta, “an average worker’s share of training after the age of 21 (will) increase from 19 per cent today to 41 per cent in 2040.”

Universities and VET providers are adapting to meet these changing demands – helping existing workers learn new skills as their jobs change or as they change jobs. But returning to my opening question – are we talking about the same kind of learning when we talk about upskilling versus reskilling?

Josephine Lang at Uni Melbourne’s School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE) suggests shorter forms of learning are needed for upskilling than for reskilling (albeit reskilling may still not need to involve a full qualification). This sharper contrast between upskilling and reskilling seems to me to be a useful one as policy makers and educators look at how to fund and how to design further education and training for the changing world of work.

The new National Microcredentials Framework has sufficient flexibility to capture both upskilling and reskilling activities.

It is also worth noting that the AlphaBeta report on Future Skills was not prepared for government, a university, or even a think tank. Instead it was prepared for Google which, like other tech companies, has significantly expanded the number of free and/or cheap courses it offers through a variety of partners including Australia’s SkillFinder, to help meet the need for tech talent.

This in turn poses both opportunities and challenges for the tertiary sector and is the focus of my PhD research (more on that in a future column).

 Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next? Podcast, where she spoke to Josephine Lang and James Horne (Balance Internet, SkillFinder) HERE