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The workforce of the future

There's an oft-repeated line that we already have 80% of the workforce we'll have in 10 years time. That's both wrong and misleading. According to the New Zealand Treasury in 2010, our 2020 workforce will comprise:
  • 20% from school-leavers between now and then
  • 20% from immigrants (who may or may not have vocational skills)
  • 60% already in the workforce today.
At least half of those existing workers will undergo a major career promotion or change of career. Add in the school leavers and some migrants and I'd say it's a reasonable assumption that over the next ten years, at least 60% of our workforce will need some very substantial vocational skills education. Not only that, putting a rising star from a local firm onto a one week course - in technical, marketing, leadership or negotiating skills at the right time in their career - should be highly valuable to the individual and the business (whether or not the government subsidises it).

How about the level of skills? Using qualification level as an approximate analogy for skill level, and again drawing on Treasury projections, our current workforce is likely to increase its qualification levels. A marked improvement, but not enough to compete at just the average of OECD country trends (see chart). Whether you aim for the current NZ trend or the far more ambitious OECD trend, these numbers pose some long term challenges – better outcomes for our long tail of unqualified school leavers, building pathways to true vocational skills and careers, and shifting the balance of provision toward higher level vocational skills.

Given the likely 60% fundamental training number and the competitive drivers for higher levels of education, tertiary education will remain a big issue over the next decade. Not only having relevant subjects learnt by the right people at the right level, but also getting value for learners, employers and the taxpayer, so we don't waste those valuable resources - our money and our time.

Disclosure: this is a personal perspective, but you should note that I am a non-executive member of the NZ Tertiary Education Commission board.