A new skills and job-matching program will help Australian tech businesses and startups tap a stream of new expertise, addressing concerns that Australia’s closed borders have exacerbated an already-problematic drought of domestic tech skills.

Initially available in Victoria, the Pivott program – established by tech incubator Stone & Chalk with support from Victorian Government startup firm LaunchVic – will match startups with “ambitious mid-career professionals” who want to take their careers in a new direction.

“Talent is a key enabler for economic growth, and this program will provide professionals who are new to the startup ecosystem with the right resources and training,” said Stone & Chalk group CEO Alex Scandurra in launching Pivott – which includes a range of resources and events.

“Providing a holistic introduction to the startup ecosystem,” he added, “means Australians are walking into roles well-equipped with industry knowledge, an appreciation of the need for their own skills, and valuable mentors to lean on.”

Pivott’s roster includes some 30 events, workshops, and ‘talent jams’; an online Learning Academy that delivers the Working in Startups course; a Top-Talent Mentor Matching Program; and online skills and experience assessment; and Jobs Platforms that links talent with job opportunities in Victorian startups and scaleups.

Indicative Pivott events this month include workshops on skills mapping, CV tweaking, and improving visibility and personal brand-building.

“As the local sector continues to mature,” noted Stone & Chalk general manager Annie Le Cavalier, “more opportunities for workers of all backgrounds and skill sets will continue to emerge.”

The program was funded with $488,750 awarded through LaunchVic’s Funding for Talent Programs, which also recognised initiatives including an INCO Australia upskilling program targeting workers stood down during COVID-19, skilled migrants and refugees, and women; and Startmate’s Women-Only Fellowship and Student Fellowship, which similarly provide targeted support to train participants to work in Victorian startups.

It’s a transition that proved refreshing for Paul Seidl, a former financial planning and services graduate who left the Victorian Multicultural Commission after more than five years to pursue a career with superannuation fintech GigSuper.

“Making the transition from a corporate to tech startup has been fulfilling from day one,” Seidl said.

“The first day in, you’re in marketing meetings, product development meetings, advertising… you’re accessing different parts of your brain [doing] things I’ve never been able to try in the corporate world.”

Solving the domestic skills crunch

Pivott and similar programs represent yet another effort to help the tech industry – which was already struggling to fill key roles and, according to the ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2021 report, needed to identify tens of thousands of new tech workers annually even before COVID-19 closed borders and turned off the tap of skilled migrants.

By finding people with established skills and an interest in a new challenge, startup incubators may help close that gap – which now sits at around 53,000 unfilled positions per year.

Taken together, LaunchVic’s initiatives will engage around 900 Victorian workers while Stone & Chalk – which notably merged with government-backed cybersecurity industry development firm AustCyber in February – aims to help over 2,000 career professionals find new roles during the 18-month program.

The programs could be a lifeline for workers who are already feeling left behind: one recent RMIT Online survey, for example, found that 88 per cent of organisations reported it was difficult to hire employees with the skills they need – even as 50,600 Australians reported their lack of necessary skills or education as their main difficulty in finding work.

This gap has fed a situation where “Australia is currently faced with record job vacancies reflected in a high volume of job ads with declining application rates,” said David Jones, senior managing director of recruitment firm Robert Half APAC, “despite a lingering proportion of unemployed or underemployed Australians.”

“While there might be no shortage of job opportunities in the Australian tech sector, there is most certainly a shortage of talent.”

Some 53 per cent of CIOs in a recent Robert Half survey said they believe the COVID-19 pandemic has increased Australia’s skills shortage – but with international borders shut for the time being, domestic programs like Pivott promise to at least partially fill the gap.

Until the inflow of skilled foreign workers can be restored, Jones advised, businesses should recruit from the domestic talent pool and “assess permanent employees on attitude, behaviour, and potential”.

Companies “should recruit from a talent pool of candidates whose skill levels are slightly less developed than the role requires, with the intention of developing technical capabilities internally through upskilling and professional development.”

Businesses, he said, should also engage contractors “that are at- or over-qualified for niche, technically-focused roles who can plug any critical skills gaps while upskilling peers on these technical capabilities.”