Australia’s IT industry has the chance to better target visa policies and industry development activities by using the updated official Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) skills list to ensure official skills classifications reflect contemporary technologies.

The overhaul of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) – a classification system for modelling the local job market that was last fully updated in 2013 – comes nearly a year after a Parliamentary Committee recommended that the system be replaced with an alternative that is “more flexible to adapt to emerging labour market needs.”

ACS Director Rupert Grayston said, “ACS is pleased to see the ABS continuing its work on modernising the ANZSCO codes and are working closely to assist the Bureau in making sure the new classifications reflect the modern technology workforce.

“The task of upgrading the roles while maintaining continuity with previous workforce data series is a very important and complex task and ACS thanks the ABS staff and leadership for their hard work on this major undertaking.

“Next year we look forward to seeing a new set of classifications which will give a better understanding of today’s technology workforce while providing the basis for reporting the future evolution of the sector.”

Given that ANZSCO is used to formulate visa policy for skilled migrants in specific industries, that review highlighted the challenges presented by overbroad skills classifications that didn’t allow visas to be properly targeted.

In a time where the IT industry is crying out for skills related to important new technologies such as cloud computing, blockchain, cyber security, quantum computing, and more, the ICT industry’s myriad job roles are still grouped into just a few categories.

These include Business and Systems Analysts, and Programmers (ANZSCO Group 261); Database and Systems Administrators, and ICT Security Specialists (262); ICT Network and Support Professionals (263); and ICT and Telecommunications Technicians (313).

Those old descriptors, which were created in a time where technologies like cloud computing and smartphones were in their infancy, only vaguely align with many of today’s most in-demand subject areas – which include emerging technologies like cloud architectures and mobile app development.

Failure to focus skills development efforts has left companies largely filling roles with a limited pool of contractors demanding ever-increasing salaries for ever harder-to-find skills.

That situation recently drove Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) secretary David Fredericks to declare Australia’s ICT sector “fundamentally a contractor-based industry” that relies on that talent pool “to deal with a wave of work that is coming through the grants process.”

ANZSCO for the better

Ensuring that official skills lists reflect the current job market and industry requirements may be important for funding and industry development, but the ICT industry’s rapid pace has made it a moving target for government instruments like ANZSCO and the Skilled Occupation List (SOL), which regularly run up to a decade behind industry practice.

Despite recognising in August 2018 that a review of the classification “is desirable”, the ABS put its ANZSCO overhaul on the back burner to focus its resources on the 2021 Australian Census.

Early last year, the ABS began exploring options for a “phased approach” to updating ANZSCO after announcing that it had “necessary support and resourcing” to explore new ways of classifying jobs in cyber security, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and naval shipbuilding.

This dovetailed with work already being undertaken by ACS, which in mid-2020 revised its approach to classifying cyber security jobs so that applications for skilled migration visas could be properly assessed against cyber security-specific criteria.

It is also canvassing opinions about a new way of maintaining ANZSCO – trialled over the past year – that would eschew infrequent major updates for more regular, staged reviews of industry capabilities conducted with relevant industry bodies.

In November, the ABS released a partial, Australia-only update of ANZSCO that reflected the fruits of this approach, introducing changes in several areas including priority “emerging occupations” and new codes for cyber security specialisations that were previously lumped under one ANZSCO code (262112).

The updated ANZSCO now lists the likes of Cyber Security Engineer (261315), Devops Engineer (261316), Penetration Tester (261317), Cyber Governance Risk and Compliance Specialist (262114), Cyber Security Advice and Assessment Specialist (262115), Cyber Security Analyst (262116), and more – allowing recruiters, migration specialists and others to better address the cyber security skills gap by offering visas for those specific roles.

That update “represents the first incremental step of a larger program of work”, the ABS said at the time – and with the release of the first major data sets from the 2021 Census finally behind it, the organisation is now diving into the full ANZSCO overhaul.

“In 2021, the ABS trialled a new, targeted approach to updating ANZSCO,” ANZSCO Review director Chris Hinchcliffe said, noting that the ABS is now accepting submissions about the new approach and will be taking a similar approach to reclassifying construction-industry roles.

“The ABS continues to develop the new approach to maintaining ANZSCO to reflect the contemporary labour market and better meet stakeholders’ needs,” Hinchcliffe said. “Feedback will determine a set of proposed changes… [and] assist with planning future updates to ANZSCO.”