Tech company are pleading with the government to develop an IT apprenticeship scheme to help meet a growing demand for tech workers in Australia.

The business group – consisting of Iress, Catapult, MYOB, REA Group, Seek, and Slack – want to dismiss the notion that software engineers have to be tertiary qualified.

“It’s actually a growing trend amongst global tech firms to drop the requirement for tertiary education for software engineering,” CEO of Iress, Andrew Walsh, told the ABC.

“At the moment the only pathway [in Australia] to become a software engineer is through a tertiary qualification but what we’re seeing amongst our peers is that’s not a requirement for getting the job done.”

Walsh said Australian tech firms like Iress are finding it difficult to recruit employees with top-tier technology skills.

According to ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2019 the country needs an extra 100,000 tech workers by 2024 – and that was before COVID-19 accelerated the pace of digital transformation.

“We’re interested in acquiring top talent and there just isn’t enough in Australia,” Walsh said.

“Our solution is to recruit from wherever we can – and we will place them overseas if we need to – but given the large dislocation as a result of COVID, we think there are people with skills that are sitting in industries next to us that we could re-train into technology.”

Instead of an overreliance on tertiary study – which can take years to complete – Walsh wants to see the government develop a framework for IT apprenticeships that provides accredited on-the-job training programs.

“If we spend two or three years providing upskilling, that’s not recognised by the next employer,” Walsh said.

“It’s not like going and getting a certificate. It’s not like being trained in the existing systems.

“We want the government to extend the apprenticeship arrangements that are already well-understood in Australia to software engineering.

“We want to break the stigma that apprenticeships are only for trades.”

Walsh points to the UK’s Apprenticeship Levy as an example of existing international schemes to encourage white-collar apprenticeships.

There, employers with an annual payroll bill exceeding £3 million ($5.5 million) pay a 0.5 per cent tax of that bill into a fund which is used to hire apprentices.

Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, told the Australian Financial Review the Australian business group's proposal “deserves further exploration".

“My office has put the group in contact with the Digital Skills Organisation to learn more about this initiative and to ascertain if this proposal would fit with the Digital Skills Organisation’s focus,” Cash said.

"Further collaboration between the private sector and government to get better outcomes for workers will be critical to our national recovery."

The government’s existing Digital Apprentice Program trains people through placement in the public sector as they work toward a relevant Certificate IV or Diploma qualification.