Nous recently hosted a roundtable discussion with leaders in education, government and industry in Perth to discuss how we can improve the employability of graduates in WA as we enter the age of automation. This article provides a brief summary of the key insights that arose from the discussion.
Recent experiences in the mining industry indicate that the loss of jobs due to the introduction of automation is not as dramatic as initially predicted.
However, graduates will enter jobs requiring high-level thinking and cognitive processes that cannot be achieved using technology. This includes advanced problem solving and critical and systems thinking. Regardless of industry, technological advancement provides great opportunities for graduates to work more closely with technology. For example, technology may be used to upskill (using Lynda or other online learning tools), improve a product or service (developing a digital interface for an existing service), or as a central tool for business functions.
Our economy will continue to shift to the domain of skilled workers who can complement technology and engage in deep human interaction. Even in a technological world we are ultimately social beings that seek to maintain personal connections through our interactions with others. This remains a constant human need and therefore driver of desired skill sets in graduates.
Technology will augment the personal experience.
Graduates will need to be willing and ready to constantly replenish new skill sets alongside technology know how to keep up in a rapidly changing digital world.
In a survey of over 371 leading global employers across nine industries, the World Economic Forum reported that the greatest driver of the future employment landscape (as indicated by 44 per cent of respondents) is the ‘changing work environments and flexible working arrangements'. 
These changes require employees to adopt adaptable approaches to work and ways of operating in changing environments.
Educators have designed their institutions and curriculums to train graduates for one job for 20 years. Into the future, education institutions need to prepare graduates to succeed in many jobs across different industries within their lifetime. In addition to traditional models that confer expertise, education providers should give their graduates versatility by teaching new skills and competencies in new ways.
Universities in Western Australia are already starting to focus on ‘21st century skills’ such as digital literacy, life- long learning and creativity. These skills are delivered using innovative approaches such as in career learning, micro credentials and skills portfolios.
As new modes of delivery are developed government and industry need to organise themselves and give consideration to how best to support the education sector to enable these new modes of delivery.
Educators have identified that the biggest barriers to flexible approaches to developing graduates often came from within the sector. There is a need to incentivise new behaviours and new models of delivery within the university and VET sectors.
One example of this is to reward educators for closer collaboration with industry. Current incentives for educators to engage with industry do not unlock the full strategic potential of these relationships. This is needed if universities for example are to better develop the breadth of graduates’ skills and knowledge, in addition to the depth of domain knowledge they have traditionally focused on.
As education institutions develop new behaviours and modes of delivery government regulators and accreditors must create a regulatory framework that facilitates this. This requires collaboration with regulators and accreditors to ensure education evolves to meet the needs of the economy.
The applied nature of VET can complement more theoretical learnings in university settings. For example students may go to TAFE to learn how to use a software package and university to learn theory that underpins it.
It was suggested that universities could collaborate with VET to provide this kind of practical interface with industry through in-career learning or applied skill sets delivered through VET.
In preparing graduates for the future educators have an active role in not only preparing students for work but also connecting them to opportunities and helping them become more productive employees.
VET providers have experienced that having staff who have direct relationships with recruiters in industry (rather than centralised relationships between the institution and companies) have led to increased employment outcomes for students. An application of this in the university sector could lead to academics becoming ‘talent spotters’ for industry and increasing pathways for graduates.
More can be done by industry, to connect graduates and prepare graduates for future roles, earlier in the school to work continuum. Participants noted that more time and resources needed to be invested in communicating to educators what skills, competencies and expertise the economy of the future will need from graduates. Only when this is communicated effectively can educators reflect this in the curriculum.
Effectively translating the needs of the future economy to the education sector requires new connections, new conversations and new approaches to collaboration.
Ultimately universities, VET, industry and government need to find a common language to talk about developing graduates as each has a role in shaping the future workforce through articulating and reflecting demand through to shaping supply.
 World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs, 2016