Skilling for the future
This is welcome in a society where we are facing skills shortages, the effects of an aging population and a developing global race for talent that is steadily making the old model of importing immigrants to cover workforce gaps no longer viable.
For those who've been out of the workforce for a long period the biggest challenge is acquiring the skills they need for the modern economy, to work in most industries today means using technologies that weren't around five or 10 years ago.
Like many ideas that come out of Canberra, the scale of this task seems to be underestimated by the public servants, politicians and the media reporting their plans. Training those currently excluded from the workforce is going to take more than a visit to Centrelink.
To give these folk marketable skills is going to require rebuilding our adult education and TAFE systems that have been systemically allowed to run down by governments over the last 30 years. That in itself is a major task that neither the states nor Canberra seem to have the appetite to address.
One of the big challenges with bringing disadvantaged groups back into education is transport – the colleges and teachers are often a long way from the students who usually face a convoluted and time consuming public transport journey to get the colleges and schools.
This is where technology comes in with access to the internet and online learning tools. Developed sensibly, broadband access can create relevant community learning centres along with individual in-home training.
We should be careful though treating technology as the only solution. One of the essentials for using computers and the internet effectively is literacy and that's a big challenge for many of these groups and something that is going to take a lot of investment in well trained and motivated teachers.
Those education investments, along with the spending we're committing to the National Broadband Network, need to be co-ordinated and this seems to be where the Federal and state governments really drop the ball with poorly thought out, short-term schemes.
For businesses, those last 30 years of government neglecting adult education have seen us neglect training as well. We've thrown much of the training burden onto reluctant governments or increasingly asked workers themselves to pay for training out of their pocket then moaning when new staff don't have the skills we need.
That indulgence is running out as we begin to face the inevitable consequences of failing to train young workers coupled with the demographic certainty of an aging workforce.
We can hope our governments can deliver on their promises but we shouldn't wait on them, even they get it right this is a project that will take years to bear fruit, we need to be starting right now with our own businesses and staff.
Training all workers, managers and business owners is a great opportunity to build new industries and use the web to give people the skills that will make them valuable members of their community.
Our days of complacently expecting workers to have the skills we need from the day we hire them are over, if they ever existed. We have the tools to fix the problems ourselves and we need to start now.
Paul Wallbank is one of Australia’s leading experts on how industries and societies are changing in this connected, globalised era. When he isn't explaining technology issues, he helps businesses and community organisations find opportunities in the new economy.