The talent shortage remains the “single biggest challenge” for Australia’s tech community, according to Tech Council of Australia chief Kate Pounder. And in the upcoming federal budget, the government has the perfect opportunity to address it.
The Tech Council launched last year with an aim to have 1 million Aussies in tech jobs by 2025, and 1.3 million by 2030.
Pounder says finding staff is “uniformly” a challenge for companies with all sizes. But for those on the smaller end, with fewer resources, it can hit harder.
That said, she also argues that there’s an opportunity here.
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Tech jobs are being created fast, and they’re high-paying, flexible and secure jobs — “exactly the kind of jobs we want to be creating, and that we want Australians to be able to move into”.
When it comes to both the federal budget this week and the upcoming election, Pounder first wants to see a commitment to the council’s jobs goal, and some understanding that tech jobs exist throughout various industries.
“Without that common agreement to the opportunity and the outcome we’re trying to hit, it makes it harder to get all the policy settings right,” she says.
Then, she’s looking for practical solutions to get there.
Part of the solution is through increasing skilled migration, Pounder notes. But there are also ways to boost home-grown talent.
Boosting women in tech
Pounder would like to see measures to help get more women into tech.
Currently, women make up just 25% of the tech workforce, she says, “even though these jobs are a great way to lift women’s pay, participation in the workforce, job security and financial security”.
There’s room to raise awareness of the upskilling and career transition opportunities for all under-represented groups in tech, with programs designed to do so.
Training and re-skilling
She would also like to see more training pathways into tech, including through re-skilling.
“As a country, we have to start getting serious about updating our training system to better deal with re-skilling.”
Historically, about 90% of vocational training in Australia was done before the age of 21. Now and in the future, more people are likely to retrain and re-skill later in life. In the fast-moving tech world, it’s often no longer optional.
“We need systems that are flexible enough to accommodate those modern practices.”
Focus on apprenticeships
Pounder also sees an opportunity to modernise apprenticeships in Australia.
There are a lot of jobs in the tech sector that would be well suited to apprenticeships and vocational training, as opposed to traditional tertiary education.
While the government has pledged to extend existing wage subsidy measures for apprenticeships and trainees, there has been no mention of tailoring it to an emerging tech workforce.
A “digital apprenticeship model” could attract a much broader pool of people into the tech sector, Pounder explains.
“And we think that would make a big difference in getting young Australians into tech jobs in particular.”
Making investments work smarter
Pounder does feel that both major parties are aware of the jobs and economic opportunities the tech sector can provide.
Last week, Labor leader Anthony Albanese unveiled a suite of measures he said would lead to 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030, and Pounder expects to see more commitments like this from both sides ahead of the election campaign.
“They’re all serious about solving the problem,” she says.
That said, it has been a challenging couple of years for the Morrison government, and COVID-19 support payments have left Treasury with a huge deficit to tackle.
Support for the tech sector doesn’t have to be expensive, Pounder argues.
She won’t be measuring the ‘tech friendliness’ of the papers in dollars and cents. She’ll be looking for signs they’re committing to creating tech jobs, and that they understand the opportunity at hand.
“It’s getting smart about the opportunity, and smart about how we help people seize it,” Pounder explains.
“We think this is the perfect budget for some of these smart wins, particularly when big spending measures are more constrained.”