Can Australia Solve Its Technology Industry Skills Shortage?

13 October 2021Written by Emma Woodward
Australia's technology industry is facing a critical skills shortage that is expected to worsen in the future. The demand for skilled ICT workers is outpacing the supply, and efforts are being made to address this issue. The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has examined the shortfall and proposed solutions involving government support and training initiatives. The industry needs an additional 60,000 skilled workers annually, and with limited options for skilled migration, the focus is on training workers within the country. The report emphasises the importance of programming and coding skills in meeting employer demands, as well as the need for greater gender diversity and professionalisation within the industry. By investing in training, encouraging more women to join the field, and ensuring high educational standards, Australia can better meet the challenges of the future.

Australia is currently facing a skills shortage in the technology industry, and this is only predicted to worsen in the coming years. ICT jobs are being created faster than skilled workers can be trained or recruited to fill these roles, and a recent Australian Computer Society (ACS) report has looked into the ways Government and industry can address these shortfalls so that Australia isn’t left behind.

The Technology Industry in Australia Needs an Extra 60,000 Skilled ICT Workers Each Year

While more students are graduating and joining the technology industry, the ACS report predicts that there will still be a shortfall of trained workers, and that supply will not meet demand in the coming years.

With a prediction of 60,000 extra workers needed per annum over the next five years, and only 7,000 students graduating with IT degrees in 2019, it is clear that there must be a significant increase in training to meet both current and future demand.

Screenshot from ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse report.

With international travel not predicted to return to pre-COVID levels until 2024, Australia cannot rely on skilled migration to fill the gap and must look at training more ICT workers onshore.

Both State and Federal Governments have planned for significant investment in the technology industry over the coming years. Some of this funding will be directed towards university placements, and there will also be packages to support short courses (or coding bootcamps). The Federal Government has committed $251.8 million for 50,000 short course places in industries including IT and science in 2021. The Victorian State Budget showed a similar focus on training and the digital economy, with $64 million over four years for the Digital Skills and Jobs Program. This program will look to support workers to re-skill and change industries through short-form courses that teach vital digital skills.

Programming and Coding Skills Will Be Highly Prized as Employers Seek Software Development Workers

Recruitment agency Hays releases regular reports on the most in-demand skills in different industries. Their information technology report covering the first half of 2020 found that a mismatch between the skills jobseekers possess and the skills employers require means the IT industry will continue to be plagued by a skills shortage.

The report was further broken down into the skills required in digital technology, information technology, and projects and business change.

The top five skills for digital technology were:
  1.     Full-stack software engineers
  2.     Cloud engineers
  3.     Data engineers
  4.     Data scientists
  5.     React.js/React native engineers
The top five skills in the information technology category were:
  1.     Cloud engineers and cloud architects
  2.     Project managers
  3.     Network engineers
  4.     Security GRC specialists
  5.     End-user support professionals

The ACS report also looked at the skills prized by employers in 2020, finding that skills in software programming were the most commonly requested. As well as looking at the ICT industry, the report looked at the trends for ICT workers within other industries. The mining industry, for example, needed workers who could collect, store, and analyse data to support operations; requesting workers with systems engineering, computer programming, and DevOps skills.

The need for AI specialists will also continue to grow, with an estimated workforce of 32,000 to 161,000 workers required by 2030.

Both the Hays and the ACS reports made it clear that Australia will need a strong ICT workforce with skills in software development, maintenance, and testing, and that skills in coding will give a competitive advantage to workers in other fields. 

The Technology Industry Needs More Women and a Greater Focus on Professionalisation

In addition to investing in courses that train for the skills most needed in the future, the ACS report identified another way for the technology industry to grow. Improving gender diversity would significantly increase the available workforce.

Women hold only 29% of roles in the technology sector, meaning we are missing out on a significant percentage of the population while women remain underrepresented.

Screenshot from ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse report.

Another area that showed great promise for growing the capabilities of the ICT workforce was in the area of greater professionalisation. Many professions, including engineering, law, accounting, and health, have long relied on professionalisation to increase consumer trust, enable standardisation of practices and knowledge, and improve the capabilities of the workforce through initial training and ongoing professional development.

The ACS report suggested that professionalisation would come with significant challenges due to the rapid rate of technological development and change. However, it was suggested that this would make a focus on industry professionalisation even more vital, as it would ensure teaching practices and qualifications were kept up to date to supply the needs of the future workforce.

The technology industry faces many challenges if it is to meet the demands of the future. By encouraging more workers to upskill and retrain in software development and other high demand areas, encouraging more women to enrol in coding and technology courses, and ensuring high standards of education through the professionalisation of the industry, Australia as a whole will be better placed to meet those challenges.

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