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Digitalisation and implications on workforce skills development

workforce skills development

The purpose of this study is to investigate the uptake of digital technologies within the transport and mobility sector and the consequent implications on workforce skills development. COVID-19 will be explored as a use case example but will not be the main focus of this research.

The use of digital technologies commonly referred to as Industry 4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, Big Data, nanotechnology, cloud computing, 3D printing and quantum computing to name a few is rapidly disrupting industries in the way they operate and interact with their environment.

This disruption will radically impact existing social, economic, legal and political systems. An area which is of concerned interest is the employment and work sphere and the impact of these advanced technologies on the future of work.

Current research claims these digital technologies will usher in a new age in workforce deployment, development, and management. This can notably be seen within the transport and mobility sector wherein COVID-19 has had such profound impact with changes expected within the macroeconomic environment, increased technology incorporation, and altered consumer behaviour.


This PhD project is associated with another, broad project iMOVE is undertaking in this area. For more information visit STUDY: Creating a national understanding of skills gaps and training needs in transport and mobility now and into the future

Project background

Since the beginning of industrialisation, there has been many paradigm shifts that have radically changed the way industries and associated ecosystems operate. These paradigm shifts, commonly referred to as Industrial revolutions are the result of technological advancements and innovation.

The first industrial revolution was in the use of mechanisation and steam power in the production process with further advancements coming in the form of electrical power and mass production that constituted the second industrial revolution. The third industrial revolution was due to innovation that took place in the field of computer science and information technology resulting in the increasing automation of the production process.

The world is currently in the threshold of the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 which is characterized by technological developments and advancements which blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spaces across industries (Bartevyan, 2015). The blurring of these lines is through the adoption and implementation of new technologies such as Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, quantum computing, cyber physical systems, nanotechnology and many more that will radically redefine production processes (Hinton, 2018).

Industry 4.0 as a concept first emerged in the Hannover Fair in Germany in 2011 as part of the German government initiative to develop its industrial sector (Zhou, 2015). There are various terminologies used to communicate the same concept such as Smart Industry in the Netherlands or Industrial Internet in the United States of America (Davis et al., 2012).

Transport and mobility sector remain an essential and integral part of the Australian economy contributing over $80 billion per year to the national GDP. It also contributes to other industries and sectors as well as purchase inputs and supplies worth $80 billion and is one of the largest employers employing almost 650,000 people. The seamless movement of goods and services across Australia’s vast geography is critical to the success of its economy.

Although this sector continues to grow and develop both quantitatively and qualitatively, there are several challenges and uncertainties that will impact transportation services and along with it jobs in the future. One of the key contributing factors to this is the rapid incorporation of digitalisation within transportation and mobility, including changes within propulsion systems, driving and navigation, logistics systems and information and data management technologies (Stanford, 2018).

New and emerging technologies within this sector including autonomous vehicles (AV’s) and drone taxis will transform our lives in the years to come. Electric vehicles has witnessed rapid growth and their adoption is expected to increase in the years ahead. Enabling digital technologies such as 5G mobile network, IoT, AI among others are expected to support this transition.

The impact of digital transformation is more than just technological. It brings about visible and invisible changes in the economic, social and political systems (Hinton, 2018). With these changes comes uncertainty, and the direct and most impacted is the fear that people have on technological unemployment and the future of work (Frey & Osborne, 2013). Furthermore, the skills and knowledge required to navigate through the incorporation of Industry 4.0 technologies are going to be radically different than existing skills and knowledge.

Hence for organisations, it is imperative that they develop adequate human resource management strategies as part of the corporate strategy incorporating the change management process (Hartmann 2015).

See the full list of iMOVE projects here

Project objectives

This PhD examines the impact of the uptake of digitalisation within the Australian transport and mobility sector and the implications on workforce skills development. It has been suggested that COVID-19 would accelerate the uptake of digitalisation as companies introduced physical distancing solutions and cost cutting measures (Seric and Winkler, 2020). These claims require closer examination given the impacts such rapid technological implementations would have for employees and workforce skills development.

Key objectives include:

  • Defining digital transformation in context of Industry 4.0 technologies and its development
  • Examination of new digital technologies impacting the transport and mobility (T&M) sector globally and locally
  • Examine government and organisation preparedness in incorporating digital technology within the T&M sector
  • Examine how T& M organisations respond to changing workforce requirements and skills as a result of digitalisation

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