Stop the blame game on the tech skills shortage

ARQ Group
By Tristan Sternson, CEO, ARQ Group
Thursday, 30 June, 2022


Stop the blame game on the tech skills shortage

There’s no disputing that the Australian tech industry is currently suffering an extraordinary disconnect between the speed of innovation, the number of jobs being created, and the pace at which those roles are being filled.

As an industry, we need to move away from the narrative of there being a lack of local people, or referring to the skills shortage as a government policy or communications issue, and start focusing on how the industry at large can effect change through their approach to recruitment and reskilling programs.

Many industry leaders are using overseas recruitment as a panacea in an attempt to put an end to the ‘blame game’, but that mindset is not sustainable as an industry. Instead, let’s widen our skills opportunity lens to embrace diversity, and focus on reskilling and upskilling Australians within and beyond tech. Together, let’s dare to do things differently, capitalising on what the Tech Council of Australia’s chief executive Kate Pounder describes as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to make Australia a global tech powerhouse.”

Necessity the mother of mindset shift

What happens when a tech company can’t service a particular client’s needs with the right skills, or match them with the right people? The client’s going to shop around to find a service provider or solution that does. As a CEO, that’s frustrating.

Now the company, which has just lost business, is faced with some critical choices. Shrug its shoulders and say “Well, we just can't do x,” or “We need to be able to do y, but it’s obviously going to cost us more to achieve this outcome or build that skill set” to continue to be viable. As the pool of talent diminishes, the value of in-demand skills is driven up, which only serves to make those skills more exclusive. Less attainable. More expensive. Less diverse.

Businesses need to look at more creative ways of upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling. That means training new and different kinds of people, from both within and outside of Big Tech; inviting old employees back; and establishing ways to attract those entering the tech industry for the first time.

Bright and exciting future

The new Labor government has made some mighty pledges in acknowledgement of the technology sector’s role in Australia’s future economic vitality, and to help mitigate the skills shortage crisis. These vows include a new $1 billion Critical Technologies Fund as part of a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, which promises to “deliver billions in economic activity, provide secure, flexible well-paid jobs for Australians and to make Australia the best place to start and grow a business.”

It’s already happening in Singapore, where the government has funded tech innovation to grow talent in a big way via payroll tax incentives, intern stipends, startup fundraising contributions, R&D and more.

Likewise, we have a huge opportunity to subsidise skills growth through vocational programs within the Australian university system to make students more employable and better skilled at graduation, and to provide similar tax breaks for vocational technology training and retraining.

Turning around ‘woeful’ Indigenous participation in tech

In New Zealand only four per cent of the IT workforce is occupied by Maōri. In Australia, Indigenous participation rates in tech are even more woeful, despite Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Indigenous engagement specialist Dion Devow reporting that Aboriginal children are particularly well-suited to STEM study and careers given many of them grow up speaking multiple languages and have advanced problem-solving skills.

We talk a lot about reconciliation, but not many companies are taking proactive steps towards promoting education and upskilling with Indigenous communities, to increase Indigenous participation in tech. We worked with the New Zealand Government to retrain 11 Indigenous locals last year, and it’s something we hope to continue to do — more so on a local level in Australia, too.

We need to be doing more to build recruitment channels in diverse communities, especially in regional and rural areas, to not only show that as an industry we are endorsing Indigenous representation and diversity in tech, but to grow it.

The key to innovation in tech recruitment and accessibility is to think differently. If you keep fishing in the same pond, you’re going to keep catching the same fish.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Murrstock

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