Australia is facing a technology skills crisis. Enterprises everywhere are having trouble finding the people they need to carry out key roles in their IT departments in just about every discipline, from data analytics to cloud computing and cyber security.
A February 2021 report by RMIT Online with Deloitte Access Economics claimed that Australia needs 156,000 new technology workers with 87% of jobs requiring digital skills. Further, more than half of the Australian working professionals surveyed said they have little to no understanding of coding, blockchain, AI and data visualisation.
The COVID pandemic has made things worse as global lockdowns and international travel restrictions have prevented enterprises operating in Australia from flying in staff from overseas.
Senior technology executives gathered for roundtable discussions in Sydney and Melbourne recently to discuss how they are dealing with the tech skills crisis. The discussions were sponsored by Pluralsight.
The ongoing war for talent is impacting companies across the technology industry, says Josephine Lanzarone, vice president of marketing, Asia-Pacific at Pluralsight.
“This is, in part, driven by the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns and exacerbated by the demand from industries including financial services, manufacturing, education and many more that are actively seeking to bring tech skills into their organisations to drive efficiencies and growth.
“As the demand for skills spreads across industries globally, Australia has not kept pace so those with the skills can command a premium for their experience,” Lanzarone says.
Compounding this, she says, technology is not a skill set that is learned one time to achieve mastery.
“Instead, technology is constantly evolving, and new skills and knowledge needs to be acquired every month for professionals to keep up with the latest trends.
“In this regard, ongoing learning is a must and finding people that have committed to this journey and will continue to refresh their skills and knowledge is the second layer of filtering that must be done for those working on the edge of what is possible with technology,” she says.
Aidan Coleman, chief technology officer at Scentre Group, says the shopping centre organisation is finding the right technology people but the skills crisis has certainly meant that the organisation has needed to step up its recruitment efforts and be smarter in how it uses networks and partners.
“In some cases that means it’s taking us longer to find top talent and we’re really focused on ensuring there’s a great fit between a candidate’s personal and professional aspiration and the organisation’s purpose and growth ambition.
“We’re lucky to be able to offer candidates exposure to industry-leading technology within a fantastic culture and high team engagement,” he says.
Meanwhile, Peter Smith, chief information officer at Mission Australia, says finding the right technology staff is tough for the not-for-profit organisation. Attracting cyber security talent is a key area but there are “challenges across the board to get people with the right attitude, a learning mindset and the right values,” he says.
“As an organisation, we can’t just sit back and let things progress – we need to take a very proactive and multi-faceted approach to make sure we attract the right staff to support the work we need to do. As such, we have been working hard to rethink how we address this and how we do it within challenging budget parameters.”
Smith says Mission Australia really can’t compete on the basis of salary and ability to provide more tangible support in their development of staff, but it can compete by using a more holistic approach to attract staff.
“Purpose is a strong motivator for many but by itself, it isn’t always enough. That’s why we have been doing a lot of work in understanding motivators and working on how we improve various elements to improve our employee value proposition (EVP). We aren’t where we want to be yet, but we are actively working on ensuring that we address as many key elements as we can to create the best EVP we can,” he says.
Liam Mallett, chief operating officer at technology company Doddle, says it’s a very competitive marketplace for talent with longer lead times to hire and higher remuneration opportunities available to candidates.
He says the organisation is having the most trouble finding product managers, and back and front-end developers and is needing to use non-monetary items to provide a compelling package such as highly flexible working and full-time work-from-home arrangements.
One senior IT executive says one of the biggest issues is the retention of existing staff who wish to work from home only.
“This is disruptive to other team members who feel that this person is singled out for special treatment. Do we insist that they come on site at least once a week and if unwilling, do we look for new talent? That’s all very well but is easier said than done. This person is outstanding and an essential resource so it’s a real dilemma,” he says.
Future proofing your skillset
Organisations that want to future-proof their skills program need to be constantly adding their skills base in line with their objectives, says Pluralsight’s Lanzarone.
She says that partnering with a skills provider that help baseline skills in a business and evaluating this against the latest developments in technology is vital.
“The fundamental element is creating an engineering culture that supports ongoing and constant upskilling to increase competition in the technology workforce for talent. Employers are competing for the best talent with companies around the world. Providing employees with the opportunity to stay on top of their field while working on interesting projects is pivotal to retention,” she says.
Mission Australia’s Smith says his organisation is future-proofing its skillset by taking advantage of an agile learning mindset and using platforms to support training and development.
“We are working to inculcate this throughout the technology team, but it is still early days,” he says.
Scentre Group’s Coleman says the organisation is focused on four things to future-proof its skills base. Firstly, Scentre is clear on a three-to-five-year technology strategy and the choices it makes to buy, build, or integrate technology products and services.
Secondly, it has created a ‘skills matrix’ that is required for now and the future along with a view of the best approach to sourcing and pipeline development.
“Thirdly, we prioritise learning and development time, we leverage online learning platforms and have weekly ‘time back’ to focus on personal and professional growth and wellbeing. Lastly, we embed and track progress a part of a quarterly ‘whole of self’ scorecard,” he says.
Doddle’s Mallett adds that his organisation is investing in staff to further develop their skills.
“We are also looking to broaden hiring location practices, so we are not as impacted by events in particular region. Most of our developers were in Ukraine,” he says.
Transferring skills and moving talent
Identifying transferrable skills and mapping them to future career pathways to support talent mobility in an organisation appears to be one of the most effective ways to keep people challenged and motivated, more so than market wage adjustments.
Doddle’s Mallett says Mission Australia is investing in staff not only for hard skills but soft skills too.
“With a growing technology team, we don’t want to end up with great technologists who have poor people management skills. Throwing people into roles they don’t have the skills for can cause more growing pains.,” he says.
To avoid this, Doddle has provided training pathways to help staff move into roles and to broaden their skillsets under leadership, technology, and soft skills tracks, he says.
“This allows staff to choose which direction they want to go in – sometimes that might be more common tech pathways like cloud or security. Other times, it might be about building emotional intelligence skills for leading a team,” he said.
Mission Australia’s Smith admits that the organisation’s IT team hasn’t identified and mapped skills well.
“This came out in some of the work we have been doing and we are working in redefining roles and some of the skills and components required for those roles so that we can define those pathways more clearly but still keep some agility and flexibility,” he says.