Learning and collaboration key to unlocking innovation

Australian workers and their businesses are at high risk of getting left behind unless employers make significant changes to their workplaces post-COVID, according to a first of its kind Australian survey by the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology.

In this unprecedented era of disruption, the survey found that more than half of Australian workers do almost no learning at work (less than an hour a week), despite three in five workers saying are concerned they don’t have the skills required for the next five years.

“Disruption is eroding our skills quicker and quicker, especially as digital transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic,” says Dr Sean Gallagher, Director of the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology and author of the report.

“This same disruption is continuously changing customers’ expectations and behaviours, creating a risk of rapid erosion of businesses’ value if they don’t get on the front foot and innovate.

“Fortunately, it’s a case of two birds, one stone.”

Further key findings from the Peak Human Workplace report included:

  • Worker-driven learning – where employees are empowered to learn and create knowledge through work – supports innovation much more strongly than structured formal training.
  • Sharing knowledge and expertise between colleagues boosted idea incubation by up to 31 per cent.
  • Just over a third of working Australians said their workplace encouraged learning from colleagues in the workplace, compared with 42 per cent who had completed formal training in the past year.
  • An hour of worker-driven learning each day enhanced an organisation’s ability to generate ideas by up to 23 per cent and idea incubation up to 21 per cent.
  • Collaboration diversity – working with different people from across the organisation and beyond – was a strong factor for boosting innovation, yet only 1 in 5 Australian workers were engaged in the most collaboratively diverse project work.

“We have an opportunity to reimagine our workplaces, both physically and culturally, to encourage the kind of learning and collaboration that our survey found can uplift skills and boost innovation and value creation,” Dr Gallagher says.

“Unlike most tech solutions, learning and collaboration are value drivers at the immediate disposal of most organisations. Businesses can start creating the future-ready workplace today,” Dr Gallagher says.

Engineers Australia and the Committee for Melbourne back report

The Peak Human Workforce report has been backed by Engineers Australia, with Chief Executive Officer Bronwyn Evans saying the report reinforces the importance of continuous learning to the success of both individuals and organisations.

“Learning and collaboration in the workplace have always been important to supporting productive work, but this new research by Swinburne demonstrates that we need to recognise their importance in driving the creativity needed to solve the increasingly complex problems we face. All workers have a role to play, and I support the finding that work needs to be reimagined as a pathway to innovation.”

A key finding of the report is that generating ideas and incubating them are best done where people come together in the physical workplace. Yet workers are reluctant to return to the office in person full-time.

Martine Letts from the CEO of the Committee for Melbourne, who joined a panel at the launch of the report, says, “We need workers to return to offices in urban hubs around the country for at least a few days each week”.

“By redefining the office for collaborative work focused on creativity and creating value, not only will this provide a compelling reason for workers to come together but it will help create smart cities. I strongly support a key recommendation of this report that organisations transform their physical workplace as a place for innovation.”

Report launch and download

The Peak Human Workforce report was launched at the Swinburne Studio at ACMI in Federation Square by Victorian Parliamentary Secretary for Jobs and Member for Eastern Victoria The Hon. Jane Garrett. It was followed by a panel featuring Martine Letts and Government and Public Sector Leader for PwC Australia David Sacks.

The full report and compendium are available at the Centre for the New Workforce website.

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