Labor pledges to close digital skills gap with 1.2 million jobs by 2030

Labor-skills-gap jobs summit

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese in the House of Representatives. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Labor has pledged to see 1.2 million Aussies in tech jobs by 2030, planting a flag on a key issue facing the startup sector ahead of next week’s federal budget.

If victorious in the upcoming election — expected to be called within the weeks after the budget — a Labor government would fund additional TAFE places, extra university courses and more support for up-and-coming startups.

In a statement, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese reiterated plans for a $15 billion ‘national reconstruction fund’ to support Aussie-founded startups, and said his government would focus on procurement from local companies.

The plan would also see the creation of 465,000 new, free TAFE places and 20,000 additional university places.

Albanese will also introduce Labor’s previously suggested ‘startup year’, which would see the government sponsor 2000 would-be founders to complete university accelerator programs.

The target of 1.2 million tech workers would mean the creation of an additional 340,000 tech related jobs by the end of the decade.

This could increase the tech sector’s contribution to the economy from about $167 billion per year to $250 billion, the statement says.

Coming just ahead of next week’s federal budget, this pre-election pledge sees Labor plant a flag on one of the biggest current concerns of the tech community.

“Too many experienced workers and businesses have left our shores due to the failure of the Morrison government to back tech jobs in existing and emerging businesses,” the statement says.

“Technology is a core pillar for our economy and is considered equivalent to the third-largest sector in the economy behind mining and banking,” it adds.

“Australia’s tech sector is massively important to our economy.”

Tech skills an emerging election battleground

The ongoing skills shortage is shaping up to become a key election battleground, and it’s something the Morrison government has the opportunity to go hard on in the budget papers.

Last year saw the launch of the Tech Council of Australia, which has a goal of having 1 million people in tech jobs by 2025. This would require some 260,000 additional workers within the next three years.

The Tech Council has also partnered with the Digital Skills Organisation on a plan to close this gap, which chief executive Kate Pounder has called the “single biggest challenge” facing the tech sector.

“We find ourselves in a world that is absolutely dominated by digital technology,” says Patrick Kidd, chief executive of the Digital Skills Organisation.

“We all have to operate within it, we all have to exist with it, our futures are absolutely intertwined with it. And yet the system hasn’t really caught up.”

In order to reach the Tech Council’s goals, we need to generate some 60,000 tech professionals each year. Currently, Kidd tells SmartCompany, Australia is generating less than 10,000 people per year.

It’s not only tech companies that are affected by this, he says. Large organisations can typically invest in technology and upskilling, or compete for the existing talent.

It’s SMEs that are “absolutely dependent” on having a digitally literate workforce in order to scale.

When it comes to generating a workforce that has the digital skills necessary to run a business effectively today, “we have a long way to go”, Kidd says.

At the same time, it’s imperative to acknowledge that as technology changes over time, the skills required will change too.

“We need to fundamentally shift our appreciation for what are the skills that we need within our economy, to enable people to be successful within it,” he adds.

“Digital skills for everybody are now as important as reading and writing, and unless we start to think like that we will continue to underperform; companies will never be able to achieve their potential, and individuals won’t be able to achieve their potential.”

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