Demand for digital skills soars, as employers struggle to attract new talent and retain top performers

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Demand for workers with digital skills is soaring, with DevOps professionals leading the way, as COVID-19 has fast-tracked the digitisation of the workforce and exacerbated a skills gap in Australia.

That’s according to research from recruitment agency Robert Half, conducted in partnership with labour market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies.

The Demand For Skilled Talent report illustrates what many Aussie business owners and startup leaders already know: The COVID-19 pandemic — and the move to remote and hybrid working — has fast-tracked digital transformation for all kinds of sectors.

That means many roles that wouldn’t traditionally have had a big tech focus now do.

The use and maintenance of hardware and software, and even development in some cases, is no longer solely in the realm of the IT department, the report suggests.

Accordingly, demand for employees with digital skills is up considerably, and competition is rife.

Some 82% of respondents said they believe it will be more challenging to find qualified job candidates, compared to pre-pandemic conditions.

Who’s in demand?

The report analysed job postings in Australia between April 2020 and March 2021, compared to the same period between 2015 and ‘16. And the results are striking.

DevOps skills — those combining software development and IT operations — have seen a massive 344% increase in demand.

There has also been an 101% uptick in demand for employees skilled in Atlassian’s Jira project management and tracking software, and an 88% increase in demand for those skilled in Software as a Service (SaaS) technology.

Skills in programming language Python have seen a 61% increase in demand, and demand for Salesforce capabilities are up 40%.

David Jones, senior managing director of Robert Half in the APAC region, noted that the expedited digital revolution has led to new growth opportunities for many businesses. But it’s also changing the roles of their workers.

“The skills employers need are not only evolving rapidly but also directly translating into new-look job descriptions and evolving skill sets,” he said.

“Just a few years ago, marketing managers weren’t assessed on their ability to configure software, nor were software developers judged by their skills in building rapport with stakeholders.

“However … advancing technology is creating both new opportunities for workers and new challenges for employers trying to fill roles.”

Supply and demand

Such a dramatic shift in a relatively short time has led to a digital skills gap. And the lack of skilled migrants coming into Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an exodus of temporary visa holders, has only exacerbated the problem.

That means wages on offer for skilled workers are increasing, too.

For example, system analysts with skills in SAP business process management tools are securing base salaries of up to 12% more than those without. In IT project management, those with Scrum process management skills are securing base salaries of 13% more.

Project managers with Prince certifications are securing base salaries of 29% more than those without, and marketers with sales qualified lead (SQL) skills can earn up to 19% more.

All of this is causing headaches for employers. When asked about their top staffing concerns for 2021, 18% said their biggest challenge was finding skilled candidates.

Another 18% said their biggest challenge was retaining their top performers.

Some 15% said their biggest concern is reskilling and upskilling employees to meet the changing needs of their business, and 13% were most concerned about their ability to meet employees’ salary expectations.

“As businesses continue towards recovery and growth without the flow of foreign talent to complement their domestic skilled workforce, there must be a renewed focus on reskilling and upskilling existing employees,” Jones said.

He suggested that, as well as assessing candidates based on their technical skills, employers would do well to seek those with a “digital mindset and agile approach to learning”.

“These characteristics will be essential to filling emergency skills gaps within a business”.

Agility and open minds

According to the research, this advice isn’t lost on employers. When asked about the ‘aptitudes’ they’re looking for in employees, 29% highlighted critical thinking skills and 28% named general ‘data skills’.

Adaptability and strategic thinking are also highly valued, each named as desirable traits by 26% of employers.

Matt Sigelman, chief executive of Burning Glass Technologies, noted that tech skills play a part in the everyday operations in pretty much every aspect of any business. And the pace of change is only accelerating.

Business leaders, and their employees, must be able to keep up.

“From a business perspective, all managers need to foster a culture of constant learning for workers to remain agile, adaptable and sufficiently skilled in order to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.”


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