The government should lean on TAFE to upskill Australian workers in technology fields during the COVID-19 economic recovery, according to two large employers.

In a submission to the government, Cisco, Optus, and TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) have called for renewed focus on training a ‘blue tech’ workforce through digital skills micro-credentials.

Blue tech jobs are defined in the Critical Role of Blue Tech and Digital Skills in Australia’s Economic Recovery report as “occupations and skills that are technology-intensive but require a sub-degree qualification” and will be crucial in an economy that has seen enhanced digital transformation during COVID-19.

“In a fully digital society all Australians will need to have at least some degree of digital literacy to contribute to economic and social development and to enjoy the benefits of economic prosperity,” the report says.

“This needs to be a key target for governments in their applied knowledge and skills acquisition strategies as we move into the recovery phase.”

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday confirmed that Australia is in a recession following two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

While technology has helped maintain some level of productivity during coronavirus lockdowns, the accelerated pace of digital engagement also risks displacing Australian workers at a rate faster than expected.

The Technology Impacts on Australian Workforce report warned in March that nearly three million Australian jobs would disappear over the next 15 years thanks to automation.

Cisco VP of Australia and New Zealand, Ken Boal, said it was more important now than ever to quickly train up Australia’s workforce for the digital age.

“Over the next decade, the pace of technological change will be highly disruptive to the workplace and will impact workers and the skills they need to thrive in the Australian economy,” Boal said.

“This has been accelerated by the pandemic, leading to further demand for digital skills.

“We see the TAFE sector as best placed to prepare young, as well as mature learners, for these new, tech-intensive jobs.”

The TDA recognises gaps in digital skills training and wants the government to help it “quickly provide access to critical digital skills in demand” which are not being adequately reached otherwise.

The Cisco, Optus, and TAFE government submission sees TAFE as a key mechanism for upskilling early school leavers, displaced workers, and people who will be forced to change careers because of “industry disruption”.

This recommendation aligns with a recent call from Australian tech businesses which want to see the government implement an IT apprenticeship scheme.

Speaking about the proposal, CEO of Iress, Andrew Walsh, lamented that the only way for Australians to become software engineers was through university degrees – but industry just cares if you can do the job.

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

Indeed, the Managing Director of Optus Business, Chris Mitchell, said the telco has found a growing need for tech workers who don’t have university-level qualifications.

“Optus has seen the profile of its talent pool change over time but there has been a surge in demand for blue tech roles, particularly in areas like cyber security and cloud related services, which is going to be a cornerstone of the Australian economy,” Mitchell said.