Workers with advanced digital skills in cloud architecture, software development, AI, and machine learning earn 24 per cent more than colleagues without those skills, according to a new study that also found cloud-based Australian businesses are more innovative and grow faster.

The use of advanced digital skills is boosting Australia’s annual GDP by $41 billion, according to the Australia Digital Skills Report 2023, which was conducted by Gallup, commissioned by AWS and involved nearly 2,800 employers and working Australian adults within a full cohort of nearly 40,000 people in 19 APAC countries.

Workers with any of 26 advanced digital skills expressed higher job satisfaction than those having basic skills (email, word processing, office productivity software, and social media) and intermediate skills (website design, application troubleshooting, and data analysis).

Strong digital investments benefit employers, with 61 per cent of the cloud-based organisations running some or most of their business on cloud platforms reporting annual revenue growth of 10 per cent or more – compared with 47 per cent of companies that aren’t running on the cloud.

“Australia has the opportunity to amplify immense economic benefits from building a strong pipeline of cloud talent to support the country’s ongoing digital transformation,” Iain Rouse, ANZ country director for public sector with AWS, said as the report was released.

“As more organisations move their IT to the cloud over the next decade and new technologies emerge, digitisation is going to fuel a vast number of new jobs,” he continued.

“The opportunity for Australia to be competitive in the digital economy depends on having a robust and highly skilled workforce to support current and future innovations.”

Advanced digital skills were also linked to innovation – with 58 per cent of cloud-based organisations saying they had introduced a new or improved product within the past two years – well ahead of the 34 per cent of non-cloud colleagues who had done the same.

“Not only does [investment in digital skills] secure higher revenue consistently for businesses now,” said Rohit Kar, ANZ and India regional director with Gallup, “but it sets them up for more consistent future innovation, competitiveness, and growth in the years ahead.”

But where are the skills?

The shift to cloud-based platforms has accelerated in recent years, with Gartner forecasting that 85 per cent of organisations will have embraced a ‘cloud-first’ principle by 2025, with 95 per cent of new digital workloads running on cloud platforms.

Yet while the new Gallup figures confirm that employers are willing to pay more for workers with the skills to drive this transition, respondents also confirmed that – despite a surge in the number of IT-qualified Australians in recent years – such workers are still hard to come by: 71 per cent said it is still challenging to find talent with the digital skills they need.

This had driven many employers to reconsider their conventional expectations around workers’ qualifications – fully 72 per cent said that digital certifications or training courses are acceptable substitutes for a bachelor’s degree – yet with many IT-qualified workers still struggling to find work, it seems many employees have digital skills, but not the ones that employers need.

Aiming to help resolve this shortfall, the newly announced AWS re/Start Associate program – a new track under the company’s re/Start retraining program, which has already trained more than 300,000 Australians – is aiming to give more workers the digital skills that employers want.

Launched with Indigenous-owned education provider Goanna Education, AWS re/Start Associate trains high school-educated participants in Linux, Python, networking, security, database, automation, and cloud skills.

It’s the latest in a string of programs aiming to bring new cohorts of workers into the IT industry with free training, appealing salaries, and other incentives.

Digital skills transition programs have proven invaluable for the likes of Marilyn Arandia, a business system analyst with Goanna Solutions, whose participation in the AWS re/Start program, she said, helped her develop “practical, hands-on skills that I now use in my role.”

“I support a young family, so it was important that the course equip me with the digital skills to secure a stable, well-paying job,” Arandia explained.

Yet “despite having years of experience, I felt that I lacked all the fundamentals required to get back into the technology industry – particularly cloud computing, which moves at a phenomenal pace.”

Convincing more employees to make the jump has become critical to Australia’s increasingly transformed economy, said Patrick Kidd, chief executive officer from the Commonwealth Government backed Digital Skills Organisation, which engages with training providers to align digital skills training to employers’ requirements.

“The digital skilling of people of all backgrounds across Australia has to become a strategic priority if we are to increase productivity and realise the economic potential of our nation,” he explained.

“These are the skills that will also enable people to participate in the economy through new and exciting ways.”