The fourth industrial revolution: implications of technological disruption for Australian VET

August 2016
Estimated publish date
August 2018
Principal researcher(s)
Prof Pi-Shen Seet, Edith Cowan University
Prof John Spoehr, Flinders University
Dr Janice Jones, Flinders University

Dr Tabatha Griffin, NCVER 08 8230 8431
Project code

Project purpose

This research aims to navigate through this paradox by moving beyond the technological drivers of change to focus on the anticipated skills needed from both the innovators (technology producers) and industry (technology users) perspectives, with a particular focus on future skills required from Australian VET graduates in the next 5 to 10 years.  This is in line with the call for future research to focus on the link between innovations with more fine-grained occupational characteristics.  In so doing, it will examine the relationships between emerging technologies and skills and will delve below the aggregate technological forces of employment change to uncover important nuances and variations at existing and new occupations and job family level and at required skills levels in the Australian context.

Research questions

The main research topic is:

  • How does disruptive technology relate to future skill development (and vice-versa) in the VET sector as seen from the innovators (technology producers) and industry (technology users) perspectives?

To that end, the following research questions will be addressed:

  1. To what extent are the disruptions due to emerging technologies in different industries helped by skills or vice-versa?
  2. To what extent are specialist skills versus generic skills relevant to innovations?
  3. To what extent do different technology life-cycles affect skill dynamics in different industries?
  4. To what extent do different types of technological innovation (e.g. process innovation versus product innovation) affect skill dynamics?
  5. To what extent is there a consensus between the developers of new technology with the employers of VET graduates, when it comes to developing relevant skills for these disruptive technologies?
  6. What is the nature of barriers to initial skill acquisition and ongoing skill development for VET students and graduates engaging with these disruptive technologies in the next 5 to 10 years?


The project will involve two stages:

Stage 1: Interviews and focus groups with key informants who are technology producers/innovators and technology users/industry.

Focus groups and/or interviews will be conducted with Chief Technology Officers, Chief Executive Officers or Chief Human Resource Management Officers from industries in South Australia and Western Australia likely to be significantly impacted by various disruptive technologies. Participants will be primarily sourced from the Innovative Manufacturing Co-operative Research Centre and the Australian Industry Group. These focus groups and interviews will gain insight into the anticipated skills needed in the next 5 to 10 years.

Stage 2: Interviews with VET providers in the manufacturing and construction industry.

Interviews with 15 manufacturing and 15 construction VET providers will be conducted. The participants will be primarily sourced from the cluster of manufacturing VET providers in the Northern Adelaide region and the cluster of construction VET providers in the Southern Adelaide region. These interviews will aim to determine how VET providers are currently placed to deliver the skills as identified by technology producers and users.