07.04.2022Meeting the digital skills challenge

As the Federal Budget is released with a focus on future economic growth, the digital skills crisis has been brought to the forefront of public debate, with a key question being, can the Australian economy service its digital skills needs?

The COVID crisis saw many individuals and businesses having to pivot to technology options. Indeed, 65,000 tech sector jobs were created in Australia in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. This is now the fastest growing sector of employment, at a time when immigration has slowed, and skills shortages are being seen across most sectors of the economy.

On Tuesday, 22 March, the Committee held a forum on digital skills to discuss the challenges being faced and the opportunities available for development of our digital and tech industries in Australia.

Joining the Committee to discuss how we can meet the digital skills challenge, were Patrick Kidd OBE OAM, CEO, Digital Skills Organisation; Tom McMahon, Chief of Staff, Tech Council of Australia; and Rachael McIntyre, Executive General Manager, State Corporate Affairs, NBN Corporate Affairs.

Tom McMahon highlighted that the tech sector is equivalent to Australia’s 7th largest employer, creating employment and economic activity across Australia’s cities, suburbs, and regions. Tech sector jobs have grown 66% since 2005, compared to an average growth rate of 35% across the overall economy.

In the Committee’s recent 2022 Benchmarking Melbourne Report, which examines Melbourne’s performance against global peer cities, Melbourne was ranked 15th of 18 peers for the proportion of the population employed in technology intensive industries. Australia will therefore need to improve its performance in attracting skills into digital and tech sector jobs, if it is to keep up with the fast-paced demand of this growing sector.

At the 22 March forum, the panel highlighted some of the challenges associated with attracting people into tech and digital jobs. Women are under-represented in tech due to gender skewed training pathways, with women more likely to enter a tech job mid-career or through migration. Australia is deeply reliant on international students training in these skills, however one in two of those students do not remain in Australia after completing their studies.

The panel also highlighted that reskilling and upskilling Australians will be the key to attracting enough people into digital and tech roles. Addressing the curriculum of education institutions, as well as ensuring that employers maintain a culture of continuous upskilling, will therefore be crucial.

Networks and collaborative mechanisms by which employees, employers and educators can share and develop digital skills, will need to be created. There is already significant work being done through collaboration with government and industry to create digital skills tools and assessments, such as those being developed by Digital Skills Organisation and NBN.

The world is changing rapidly and in myriad ways. Technological advancements, immigration, shifting geopolitical power, climate change and COVID-19 are some of the factors contributing to a more complex world. This means that Melbourne and Australia need to prepare for an increasingly interconnected world using technology.

The reality is that the importance of digital technology will grow in our personal and professional lives. Tech jobs are some of the best jobs in the Australian economy, being highly paid, secure and flexible. And yet, our 2022 Benchmarking Melbourne Report highlights that Melbourne has improvements to make in digital and tech sectors, to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment. We must therefore ensure that within Australia, and Melbourne in particular, we are positioned to take advantage of this opportunity, as it is critical to remaining globally competitive and maintaining a high standard of living.

To watch our Meeting the Digital Skills Challenge event, click here

To read our 2022 Benchmarking Melbourne Report, click here

For more information please contact Leanne Edwards, Director, Policy at ledwards@melbourne.org.au

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