After years of lobbying from tech industry bodies, the federal government has committed to acting on key recommendations of an industry-backed jobs creation report designed to plug Australia’s IT skills gap by expanding the sector to 1.2 million tech jobs.

Tech jobs will be a “top priority area” in the new Albanese government’s plan to deliver 465,000 fee-free TAFE places and 20,000 additional university places, Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic said in launching the new report – which echoes the 1.2 million jobs target elucidated by now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese heading into this year’s election.

Recognising that Australia will need an additional 653,000 tech workers by 2030 – including 314,000 needed just to claw back from anticipated retirements and departures from the industry – the Tech Council of Australia (TCA) outlines five key calls for action in its new report.

These actions include increasing understanding and awareness of job opportunities; fixing gaps in education and training products and pathways; improving the diversity of the tech workforce; targeting skilled migration to areas of high need and greatest shortages; and improving industry-level supply and demand analysis.

Faced with vacancy rates 60 per cent higher than the national average and demand growing at triple that rate, the report warned that industry faces “severe shortages” in technical occupations like software programmers and computer network professionals – but is also struggling with “big gaps” in commercial and creative roles like product managers.

Australia will require around 223,000 digital technicians and trades by 2030, the report projects, with 585,000 technical professionals (including software programmers and cyber security specialists), 253,000 creative and commercial staff, and 140,000 operational support workers in legal and HR type roles.

Meeting the 2030 target will only be possible “if the tech industry and the government work closely together,” Husic said, committing to organise a roundtable with key tech-sector stakeholders “to work towards shared goals”.

The report has the backing of the TCA’s Digital Employment Forum, which engages tech firms like LinkedIn, Atlassian, Q-Ctrl and HealthEngine as well as employers such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Wesfarmers and Woolworths Group.

“The government is already taking action which is in line with the recommendations of the report,” Husic added, arguing that the government is working to “create an environment for success by building our national training system, backing final year student and graduate entrepreneurs, and buying and making things in Australia.”

Noting the government’s recent efforts to prioritise 60,000 skilled visas, Husic said the new government is also “committed to improving migration settings to support high productivity and wages in all sectors, including the tech sector.”

The rocky road to 1.2 million

Reaching the target “will be challenging”, the report admits – echoing the challenges long identified through reports such as ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2022, which forecast even higher demand, expecting that the 1.2 million milestone will be reached in 2027.

That’s three years earlier than the new TCA projections, with the report flagging ongoing challenges not only in the size of the workforce but in its composition, with just 31 per cent of the IT sector comprised by women.

Although the percentages change slowly, the ongoing call for expanding Australia’s tech workforce has been a common theme through eight years of Digital Pulse studies, ACS president Dr Nick Tate said in releasing the latest report.

In each of the past eight years, he said, “a single story has bubbled to the top every time: the need for a better pipeline of technology workers in Australia. We’ve been keeping just ahead of the game by importing huge numbers of workers from overseas, but as COVID-19 showed, this is a risky strategy.”

Even as industry bodies push forward with education assistance, training, and workforce development services, Tate called for employers to “put much more effort into training their own workforce” – and to abandon ‘fire and replace’ hiring practices to “do the work of making sure that staff skillsets are regularly refreshed”.

Kate Pounder, CEO of the newly-minted TCA, agrees – arguing last year that “reskilling and upskilling workers must become the primary way tech jobs are filled” and encouraging employers to do more to build their skills base rather than relying on the government to keep providing a skills pipeline from which they can pluck crucial workers.

At that time, TCA was pushing for what Pounder admitted was an “ambitious” target of adding 286,000 workers by 2025 to push total worker numbers to 1 million – but as the latest report dovetails with the new government’s policy, she said, “the Australian Government and Australian tech employers have a shared commitment.”

Calling higher tech-industry employment “one of the most impactful levers available” to support Labor’s jobs push, Pounder said, “Australia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be a global technology powerhouse.”