The creation of jobs may be a common thread of the two-day Jobs and Skills Summit 2022, but with so many niche agendas set to be pursued – and the newly released attendance list showing all the usual suspects – can the IT industry make itself heard over the chorus?
With the summit comprising a rapid-fire series of presentations covering a laundry list of topics, its agenda – outlined a fortnight ago in a formal issues paper – is aligned around five broad themes including maintaining full employment and growing productivity; boosting job security and wages; lifting participation and reducing barriers to employment; delivering a high-quality labour force through skills, training, and migration; and maximising opportunities in the industries of the future.
It's an ambitious agenda that will inform an upcoming government white paper – and one to which the IT industry risks being largely a spectator.
Out of 146 names on a final invite list populated by politicians, union heads, academics and industry giants, one can count the number of tech-related invitees on one hand.
The IT sector has just three representatives – John Mullen of Telstra, Scott Farquhar of Atlassian, and Robyn Denholm of the Tech Council of Australia (TCA) – while the broader STEM field will be carried by the likes of Australian chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley and Professionals Australia CEO Jill McCabe.
They will rub shoulders with representatives of industries including agriculture, renewable and conventional energy, accountants, nurses, electricians, Indigenous groups, flight attendants, mining, and more.
All are wrestling with attracting and keeping “exhausted” staff amidst trends like the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, and many will likely relate similar experiences from their post-pandemic recovery efforts.
However, the government’s unimaginative choice of IT industry representatives – Atlassian is an Australian tech success story and political darling but has just 8,800 employees spread across 13 offices worldwide, while Telstra has savagely cut 8,000 jobs in recent years – limits the potential IT industry narratives that will be shared.
The startup community is not explicitly represented, and just one invitee – Alexi Boyd of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia – will speak for the 788,000 small businesses that have been pushed into survival mode over the course of the pandemic.
For all the strength of the IT industry’s internal jobs narrative, the distribution of attendees highlights the bigger problems at play at a national level – and IT can take a number.
National Skills Commission figures tell us, for example, that Australia requires nearly 600,000 sales assistants as well as 357,000 nurses; 344,000 general clerks; 300,000 aged and disabled carers; 253,000 retail managers; and 215,000 accountants.
That puts software and applications programmers as the seventh highest jobs requirement, with just under 196,000 positions needing to be filled – slightly ahead of electricians, primary school teachers, and waiters.
Many are wrestling with not only the challenge in finding workers, but increasing wages in a climate of rising inflation – and in an already well-heeled IT industry where CIOs are paying up to 30 per cent premiums for key skills, other industries may struggle to relate.
Jobs are where you make them
As the summit rolls through its paces, the figures suggest that the IT sector will have to keep going it alone to resolve skills gaps in IT-related areas like cyber security, which is struggling with a persistent gender gap as the industry tries innovative traineeship and public-private partnerships to train the staff it needs.
Despite the government’s in-principle support for initiatives to supply over 650,000 tech workers by 2030 – and a caveat that business must do the heavy lifting – competition with other sectors could limit what change the IT industry can expect from the summit.
“Despite the best intentions of governments, businesses and educational institutions, this issue’s not likely to be resolved soon without a radical overhaul of our visa program,” Adapt senior research director Matt Boon said, “so companies need to make sure their workplaces are primed to make the most out of the existing talent pool.”
“While skills shortages are apparent across many industries, the IT skills shortage feels more pronounced as leaders realise future company success depends on present digital capability, which can only be brought up to scratch through the work of the right people.”
With an absence of coherent strategies to expand the workforce, 71 per cent of HR leaders are turning their sights inwards by to fill talent gaps, according to a recent Adapt People Edge survey that found 53 per cent of companies are creating new opportunities to rotate jobs within the company; 48 per cent are creating more internship programs; and 41 per cent are collaborating with universities to engage with students before they graduate.
Yet even student outreach is unlikely to make real inroads, said Karin Verspoor, executive dean of the RMIT University School of Computing Technologies, who warned that the “massive skills shortage in the technology sector [requires] nearly a doubling of our tech workforce before 2030 to drive economic growth and ensure that Australia remains at the leading edge.”
“We will not achieve this with our current approach, focused on attracting school leavers to study IT/Computing,” she continued, citing the importance of reskilling women and allowing workers to join the IT industry mid-career or from non-traditional backgrounds.
“We need to broaden the pool of people that see technology as an attractive and fulfilling career option,” she said. “We need programs that expose more people to the opportunities in technology and spark a passion in them to learn more.”