Global skills rating leaves room to improve

Published on the 06/06/2019 | Written by Heather Wright

Global Skills Index

NZ and Australia get a pass mark for business, so-so for tech and data science…

Both New Zealand and Australia have been ranked as having ‘cutting edge’ business skills, but the picture is slightly less rosy when it comes to data science and technology skills, where while we’re ‘competitive’ there’s still work to be done.

The assessment comes is sourced from empirical data gleaned off real online course results, so it holds some weight.

We’ve heard ad-nauseum about the changing skills required for the workforce of today – and tomorrow – in a world where the fourth industrial revolution with its promise of automation and artificial intelligence, we’re told, will transform our workplaces and render many jobs obsolete.

The new report, from global online training company Coursera, measures and ranks the skills of 60 countries in areas central to productivity in an age of automation and AI, based on data from the Coursera platform.

The inaugural Global Skills Index puts New Zealand at number six for business skills, putting the country in the 92nd percentile and tops for Asia Pacific, with Australia not far behind at number nine (89th percentile). But the report also notes that demand for business skills is shrinking, while demand for technology and data science skills growing.

Organisations cannot wait for the long-term benefits – they must support and develop their workforces now

When it comes to technology skills Australia is tops for Asia Pacific and number 14 globally making the ‘cutting edge’ category. In particular, Australia ranks high for computer networking, databases, HCI, operating systems and security engineering skills.

New Zealand ranks 17 globally, falling into the competitive category, but with ‘cutting edge’ ranking for HCI and security engineering.

New Zealand tops the Asia Pacific region for data science skills, at number 19 globally, ahead of Singapore (20) and Australia (21) – all making the ‘competitive’ category. Both NZ and Australia ranked highly for data visualisation, with NZ also cutting edge in mathematics.

While we’re ranking reasonably well, there’s no time to rest on our laurels, with the report noting every country in Asia Pacific can do more to develop the skills – especially technical skills – of its citizens. While computer science is being added to school’s curriculums, Coursera says that’s not enough.

“While this is a step in the right direction, organisations cannot wait for the long-term benefits of these efforts – they must support and develop their workforces now.”

Asia Pacific, in general, presents a mixed bag in the report. While New Zealand and Australia rank well, Pakistan and Bangladesh land close to the bottom in each domain. Unsurprisingly, the report notes that the more advanced economies are also the most skilled given their ability to invest more in education and upskilling.

It paints Singapore as an example to aspire too, with its emphasis on lifelong learning through the government SkillsFuture program which subsidises training in areas such as data analytics – something that has no doubt contributed to the country’s second-place ranking (behind Israel) for data science, where it recorded especially strong performance in statistics and data visualisation.

We should also look to Europe for inspiration, Coursera says.

European countries make up more than 80 percent of the top category, dubbed ‘cutting-edge’, across business, technology and data science. Coursera notes that Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands are consistently cutting edge in all three domains, providing examples of best practice. The advanced skill level is attributed, at least in part, to Europe’s heavy institutional investment in education through workforce development and public education initiatives.

“European organisations are stronger advocates of combining retraining with hiring new talent, while their counterparts in the United States, for example, are more likely to favour hiring new talent exclusively,” the report says.

“There’s also momentum within Europe to make learning on the job, like healthcare a fundamental right. So while other countries… have strong cultures of lifelong learning, Europe’s may be the most robust.”

The introduction of GDPR has also had a flow on effect for data science skills in Europe, with organisations being forced to rethink data storage and management practices and needing data science expertise to compete.

Globally, the report says two-thirds of the world’s population is falling behind in critical stills – including 90 percent of developing countries. Countries that rank in the lagging or emerging categories – the two categories deemed lowest in skills – make up 66 percent of the world’s population.

And the winners in each category? Finland is tops for business skills, Argentina rules for technology and Israel is out front for data science.

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