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Andrew Herrmann and Claire McFarland, “Future workers: Computer science, apprenticeships
and soft skills,” United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, July 2019.


The United States Studies Centre’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program is a multi-year research initiative, funded by the NSW Government, focused on understanding the United States as an innovation leader with a view to developing insight for the benefit of New South Wales and Australia.

Over the past decade, the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and machine learning technologies have escalated dramatically, as have their commercial applications.  Whether within the next decade or over the next several, this so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will undoubtedly redefine the nature of work.  This will engender some level of workforce displacement, most likely of lower-wage, so-called lower-skilled workers. For most professions automation is expected to result not in displacement, but in change or augmentation.  As machines increasingly conduct repetitive tasks, humans will spend more time managing technology and focusing on the unpredictable, creative and social dimensions of work.

Such changes would necessitate a radical shift in the experiences, credentials and skills that young people need to succeed in the emerging workplace. Socalled ‘soft’ skills — leadership, social and emotional intelligence, problem solving, adaptability and the like — are expected to prove vital in capturing automationsecure jobs, given that such skills presently remain beyond commercial AI.

These same changes, challenges and expectations face American and Australian youth so it is beneficial to examine popular workforce development strategies championed at the US state level to advance young people’s digital skills, qualification levels and soft skills. In so doing, it may be possible to determine areas in which US and Australian states can learn from each other to develop policy that will prepare youth for the changing workplace.