Jobs creation may be a common thread running through the two-day Jobs and Skills Summit 2022, but with so many niche agendas to pursue – and the recently released attendance list showing all the usual suspects – can the computer industry make its voice heard on the chorus?
With the summit featuring a series of quick presentations covering a long list of topics, its agenda – outlined a fortnight ago in an official concept paper – revolves around five broad themes, including maintaining full employment and productivity growth; strengthen job security and wages; increasing participation and reducing barriers to employment; providing a high quality workforce through skills, training and migration; and maximize opportunities in the industries of the future.
It’s an ambitious agenda that will inform a forthcoming government white paper – and one that the IT industry is likely to be largely on the lookout for.
Out of 146 names on a final guest list populated by politicians, union leaders, academics and industry giants, one can count the number of tech-related guests on the one hand.
The IT sector has just three representatives – John Mullen from Telstra, Scott Farquhar from Atlassian and Robyn Denholm from the Tech Council of Australia (TCA) – while the broader STEM field will be driven by figures like Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley and Jill McCabe, CEO of Professionals Australia.
They will rub shoulders with representatives from industries such as agriculture, renewable and conventional energy, accountants, nurses, electricians, indigenous groups, flight attendants, mining, and more.
All are struggling to attract and keep “burned out” staff amid trends like the big quit and silent abandonment, and many will likely recount similar experiences from their post-pandemic recovery efforts.
However, the government’s unimaginative choice of IT industry representatives – Atlassian is an Australian tech success story and political darling, but has just 8,800 staff in 13 offices around the world, while Telstra has savagely cut 8 000 jobs in recent years – limits the potential IT industry stories that will be shared.
The startup community is not explicitly represented, and only one guest – Alexi Boyd of the Council of Small Business Organizations Australia – will speak on behalf of the 788,000 small businesses that have been pushed into survival mode during the pandemic.
For all the strength of the IT industry’s internal jobs narrative, the breakdown of participants highlights the most important issues at play nationally – and IT can take on a number of them.
Figures from the National Skills Commission tell us, for example, that Australia needs almost 600,000 sales assistants as well as 357,000 nurses; 344,000 general clerks; 300,000 elderly and disabled carers; 253,000 store managers; and 215,000 accountants.
That puts software and applications programmers in seventh place in terms of the highest job requirements, with just under 196,000 vacancies, slightly ahead of electricians, elementary school teachers and servers.
Many are struggling not only with the challenge of finding workers, but also with rising wages in a climate of rising inflation – and in an already well-off IT industry where CIOs are paying up to 30% bonuses for key skills, other industries may struggle to relate.
Jobs are where you make them
As the summit marches on, figures suggest the IT sector will need to continue to go it alone to address skills gaps in IT-related areas such as cybersecurity, which is struggling with a gap gender gap as the industry attempts innovative internships and public-private partnerships to train the personnel it needs.
Despite the government’s principled support for initiatives to supply more than 650,000 tech workers by 2030 – and a caveat that companies must do the heavy lifting – competition with other sectors could limit the changes the IT industry can expect from the top.
“Despite the best intentions of governments, businesses and educational institutions, this issue is unlikely to be resolved any time soon without a radical overhaul of our visa program,” said Matt Boon, senior research director at Adapt, “Companies must therefore ensure that their workplaces are prepared to make the most of the existing talent pool.
“While skills shortages are apparent in many industries, the IT skills shortage appears more pronounced as leaders realize that future business success depends on current digital capability, which can only be upgraded through to the work of good people.”
In the absence of cohesive strategies to expand the workforce, 71% of HR leaders are looking inward to fill talent gaps, according to a recent Adapt People Edge survey which found that 53% of businesses create new opportunities for job rotation. within the company; 48% create more internship programs; and 41% collaborate with universities to interact with students before graduation.
Yet even student outreach is unlikely to make any real inroads, said Karin Verspoor, executive dean of the RMIT University School of Computing Technologies, who warned that the “massive skills shortage in the tech sector [requires] nearly doubling our tech workforce before 2030 to drive economic growth and ensure Australia remains at the forefront.
“We won’t achieve that with our current approach, which is focused on attracting school leavers to study computing/computing,” she continued, citing the importance of retraining of women and enabling workers to join the IT industry at mid-career or from non-traditional backgrounds.
“We need to expand the pool of people who see technology as an attractive and fulfilling career option,” she said. “We need programs that expose more people to the opportunities of technology and ignite a passion in them to learn more.”