Why Talent Management is the Saviour of Australian Universities
March 28, 2017 Brian KellyA revolution is under way in Australia’s higher education sector, as policy makers and staff grapple with global changes in the way we live, work and learn.
Academic staff no longer have the luxury of turning their back on the business world and concentrating purely on study and students.
Social, economic and technological imperatives are forcing a change of direction in our higher education bodies, as a comprehensive study reveals.
The sweeping review of Australia’s universities, policy makers and sector groups, conducted by Ernst & Young Global Limited (EY) in 2012, suggests that higher education institutions in Australia must transform their business models to survive in a radically changed world.
The traditional model of a broad-based, labour-intensive institution, heavy on assets and operational staff, will no longer be viable over the next 10 to 15 years, the report claims.
Government funding is likely to decline, new technology will make existing systems redundant and institutions will be forced to forge new links with industry and commerce, as EY research indicates.
University of the future: A thousand year old industry on the cusp of profound change (EY)
Challenges revealed in the EY study include:
- An ageing workforce: 25% of Australia’s higher education workforce is aged 55 plus, against 15% for the remainder of the Australian workforce.
- Increased competition: As higher education sectors grow increasingly more consumer-driven and competitive, universities will be forced to upgrade and expand commercial competencies.
- Speed to market: To keep up, institutions will need to be first to market with innovative research, teaching and student programs.
- Funding options: As Government funding dries up, universities will be forced to forge alliances with industry and take part in joint international initiatives based on the global knowledge economy.
- Quality control: Information and misinformation now flooding the internet and freely available to everyone means universities must find new forms of quality control to remain the ‘originators and keepers of knowledge’.
- Digital technology: Outdated systems are no longer acceptable in a world of constantly upgrading new technology.
How Australian higher education can weather the storm
If this sounds daunting, it is - for faculty staff still clinging to increasingly outdated and rarefied models of ‘independent working’ unsullied by commercial demands.
Yet the solution exists. It entails:
- A more flexible workforce with agile, responsive staff trained specifically to further the goals of the institution.
- Smart management in multiple sectors – learning, performance, succession planning and digital systems.
- Management of the process of change itself, ensuring that academic excellence is maintained while new business models are introduced.
- Following the trend for global mobility, giving students and academics greater opportunities to establish global partnerships and take part in international projects.
Which is all fine in theory. But how can it be achieved in the real world?
Talent management solutions
Three primary forms of talent management are needed to help prepare Australia’s higher education institutions for changing times.
- New ways to learn
It’s not only university students who expect to be educated. Faculty staff are now on a steep learning curve, and their jobs depend on it.
Today’s universities need robust training options and career development to enable staff to fill skill gaps, expand their competencies, get their digital expertise bang-up-to-date, integrate new learning methodologies and prepare to be future leaders.
Learning Management Systems (LMS), available to faculty staff 24/7 at any location, offer the flexibility and ground-breaking opportunities contemporary staff need to compete and grow.
- New ways to perform
Everyone knows that academic staff are reluctant to be observed, monitored and evaluated.
But, 85% of Western Sydney University staff are now completing performance reviews using Cornerstone on Demand.
The key to effective performance evaluation in contemporary higher education lies in:
- Simplicity: an intuitive, user-friendly platform.
- Frequency: Ditching the annual review, smart assessments are done little and often with frequent review of short-term goals.
- Scope: On-the-job reviews are blended with feedback from managers and peers.
- New ways to succeed
Succession planning is the third fundamental, based on identifying the key competencies of every role.
It’s impossible to plan for people to grow into available positions if you don’t truly know what each position demands.
Genuine succession planning, focused on growing international competition and addressing the ageing workforce, entails:
- A process of constant improvement and refinement, offering each new candidate the potential to expand and enhance their role.
- A work culture subject to ongoing scrutiny and change, ensuring workplaces don’t get stuck with outdated routines, resistant attitudes and unacceptable work practices.
- Alignment of individual employee goals with broader institutional objectives, so emerging leaders will be ready to tackle the university’s unique challenges.
Australian Higher Education Workforce of the Future
This PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PwC) report, commissioned by Australian Higher Education Industrial Association (AHEIA), was released in 2016.
It identifies three main attributes every higher education workforce will need to ensure their future effectiveness:
- Agility and flexibility, to help employees tackle change.
- Professionalism, driven by increasing staff skills, capabilities and competencies.
- Specialisation, affecting all roles, including digital, learning design, career counselling and analytics.
The PwC study ‘reimagines the workforce’, recommending change in three ways:
- Capability: Upgrading of skills, capabilities, experience and behaviours.
- Structure: Improved design of new and existing roles to meet future demands.
- Engagement: Matching capability with structure in new ways via contract models, investment, reward and the talent pipeline.
Future proofing Australia’s higher education workforce
In a nutshell, university staff will need to be more competitive, digitally skilled, specialised and productive to survive in a fast-changing global environment.
Faculty staff are increasingly opting to work overseas, the PwC report points out, so new workforce structures are needed to both support and cover the flow of talent between countries.
Increased levels of collaboration, both within and across institutions, are also necessary to connect traditional university ‘silos’, helping them communicate in more integrated and effective ways.
By serving the needs of a 24/7 society, Australia’s universities will remain competitive well into the future.