Employers and managers should be looking for ways to train and encourage meaningful work among their existing cohort of IT professionals if they want to avoid competing in a marketplace that has a low supply of IT skills.

This is the message from Australian IT leaders speaking at a panel during the ACS Reimagination Thought Leaders’ Summit 2022.

Amelia Forbes, regional CTO of IBM, said her attitude toward developing the Australian IT workforce is to find ways of retaining existing staff.

“We’re really focused on how we invest in the people we have,” she told the conference. “And working out how we create career pathways for technologists already in the organisation.”

Despite complaints in the US that IBM tends to favour younger workers, Forbes said the company conducts focus groups and consulted with their staff about exactly what kinds of opportunities they are looking for with their careers in order to build the existing workforce.

“It’s helped us build insightful programs that have allowed individuals to try something new and explore different opportunities,” Forbes said.

“At the end of the day, they want to be challenged, to be motivated, and to continue to grow.

“Technologists have a real appetite for trying new things.”

Google has a similar approach, according to regional director of Customer Cloud Strategy, Matt Pancino.

When asked about how to deal with the difficulties of reskilling a workforce for digital technologies, Pancino said it was about trying to hire people, not just skills, in the first instance.

“Google does a pretty good job at hiring for people’s ability to learn,” Pancino said, which drew nods of assent from the Reimagination crowd.

“I think it’s this inclusive environment you want to create so you can find smart people, talented people, so you can give them purpose, you can give them space, and you can give them the opportunity to learn new things, and grow their career.

“Google’s famous for its 20 per cent project time, particularly to let people invest in things they’re passionate about to let them develop their own skills.”

Letting workers spend 20 per cent of their time working on projects that don’t necessarily have an obvious outcome resulted in the development of popular projects such as Google News, Adsense, and Gmail.

Being such a well-established technology company, Google’s hiring practices have been time-tested and it has in some ways set the standard for how to build and maintain a top IT talent pool.

Newer companies like Australia’s graphic design platform Canva thus have to compete for IT skills against Google and other tech giants.

But Canva’s Director of Engineering, Adam Schuck, said it necessary that a high growth company like Canva doesn’t treat skills as static.

“The company is growing by 2x year-on-year, the technologies are changing, the challenges that we’re taking on are constantly evolving,” Schuck told the Reimagination audience.

“Something we talk about inside the company is that many people at Canva are in the biggest roles of their careers – many people are learning.”

Schuck gave a personal example, saying part of his role at the moment was to build a marketing technology function from scratch.

“That’s not something that I had experience with five years ago, but we get the support that we need at Canva to help people learn and understand, and then complement that with people who have the experience,” he said.