Developing appropriate workforce skills for Australia's emerging digital economy

September 2016
Estimated publish date
November 2018
Principal researcher(s)
Assoc Prof Victor Gekara, RMIT
Tabatha Griffin, NCVER 08 8230 8431
Project code

Project purpose

Digital disruption introduces technology-enabled change at a pace and scale that shifts established ways of work. Digital skills are becoming increasingly important throughout Australia’s workforce and jobs previously considered low tech and requiring low levels of digital skills are being drawn into the digital age.

This research focuses on a very important aspect of the workforce skills challenge facing Australia: how to effectively equip the workforce with appropriate digital skills for enhanced workplace participation and sustainable economic productivity. The study will produce a replicable methodology for identifying digital skill gaps based on an analysis of industry test cases and a comprehensive framework for addressing the digital gap for the wider economy.

Research questions

The research will be guided by three key research questions:

  1. What are the areas of shortage or mismatch (defined as the gap between an individual's job skills and the demands of the job market) of digital skills in the workforce?
  2. What are the weaknesses and shortcomings in existing industry strategies, government policies and training programs with specific regard to developing workforce digital skills?
  3. How can these shortcomings be addressed in order to eliminate the skills gap and effectively meet Australia’s growing demand for digital skills?


Overall this project will employ an embedded industry case study methodology drawing on the combined strengths of stakeholder interviews, a structured employer survey, secondary data mining and industry research workshops. The study will focus on two sectors as test cases: transport and logistics; and public safety and correctional services.

The project will be conducted in three stages:

Stage 1: Identification of the digital skills gap.

This stage will involve a triangulation of three methods to identify the digital skills gap. The analysis here will be based on the list of occupations identified in the 2015 Transport and Logistics and Government Skills Association E-scan reports as occupations in demand. To determine the current demand for digital skills in these occupations, analysis of current and recent job vacancies will be conducted. To explore forward-looking skills demand, interviews with senior managers drawn from across different industries within the two sectors will also be conducted. This emerging landscape of future digital skills demand will be examined against a detailed analysis of the digital skill content in existing VET training programs to see how well they meet the current demand as well as the capacity to meet growing demand.

Stage 2: Identification of industry practices to meet digital skills.

The second stage will investigate the VET programs and employer strategies to meet the growing demand for digital skills in the transport and logistics and public safety and correctional services workforce. It will involve a critical interrogation of existing industry practices and employer strategies for developing a tech-competent workforce, through both internal skilling mechanisms and the VET system. To achieve this a broad-based digital workforce preparedness, a self-assessment survey will be administered to determine the nature of industry response to growing workforce digital skill needs, level of investment in workforce up-skilling and their impact.

Stage 3: Creation of a digital skill development framework.

The third stage will draw upon two methods. In the first instance, a comprehensive review of international best-practice frameworks for digital skills development will be conducted. The outputs from the first two stages and the best practice review will be discussed through two structured sector-focused research workshops. Findings from the workshops will be consolidated with the findings from stage two of the study and from the international best-practice analysis to develop a comprehensive framework for planning and developing digital skills in Australia.

About the organisation

RMIT University, the College of Business and the School of Business IT and Logistics provide a strong research environment with elaborate structures for ensuring delivery of high quality research. As a dual-sector academic institution, it has a long history of teaching and research in VET. The project will be developed and managed within this environment and undertaken by members of the Skills, Training and Industry Innovation Research Group (STIRG), whose focus is on understanding how industries, undergoing change, are addressing the skills and training challenges associated with these changes. STIRG takes a holistic approach to understanding industry skill capabilities and training needs through a consideration of the role and interaction of a range of actors involved, including industry and their associations and businesses, training providers, skills councils, and trade unions.