Despite the limitless opportunities flowing through technology, Australian businesses remain bound by a worsening skills shortage.
ARN addressed the issue with Readify Managing Director, Graeme Strange, seeking answers as to how the industry can create the next generation of tech talent.
To operate on the competitive stage of innovation, Australia in tandem turns to its skilled ICT workers. It is technology, after all, that contributes to a significant slice of the national economy, forecasting to grow from $79 billion in 2014 to $139 billion in 2020, swelling to a seven per cent share of the GDP.
With such increase comes opportunity, and a growing demand for tech talent, with more than 100,000 new workers required during the next five years.
Yet as the country calls out for a workforce equipped with the ICT skills required to fuel its digitally-driven economic growth, where will the talent come from?
Industry research shows that the number of graduates with ICT qualifications has dwindled since the early 2000s, leaving Australia’s private industry and economy in the lurch due to a deepening skills shortage.
Long-standing Microsoft partner, Readify, is one channel partner determined to address this issue, launching industry initiatives designed to foster new blood with core Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skill sets.
In leading one of Australia’s fastest growing and most innovative software development specialists, Strange said during the past six years, a lack of local skills has impacted market progression, reflecting an industry-wide issue.
“As a nation we’re great consumers of technology but we need to become great creators of technology,” he said. “It needs to be invented in Australia.
“We’ve had to search overseas to bridge the gap between what we can hire locally versus what we need as there’s a skill shortage in software development and data analytics.”
While Australia remains fortunate enough to entice overseas skilled workers to such golden and sun-kissed shores, Strange said its ability to cherry-pick from a large pool of overseas specialists means efforts to nurture local talent have fallen short.
Looking to the future, Strange believes the STEM skills shortage will continue to “inhibit productivity” growth in the Australian economy, posing greater risk as the country becomes driven by digital technology amidst a tapering mining boom.
“We can’t keep relying on digging stuff out of the ground,” he added. “We’ve got to rely on differentiating ourselves. But where are these people going to come from?
“If you look into the crystal ball, eventually we will become a dumb country, not the smart country we are capable off.”
Edging closer to innovation
In adopting a strong stance on the STEM issue, Strange said that without direct access to cheap labour in Australia, the nation simply “can’t compete” on a level footing with many other economies, heightening the need to compete on innovation.
For Strange, STEM skills lay the foundation for future success, calling on the country to edge closer to innovation by promoting ICT careers at primary education level.
“Education departments and government have a responsibility to teach code at a young age to pave the pathway from school to workforce,” he said.
“It starts back in kindergarten when kids are learning to count. There’s no reason why kids can’t be learning the language of the modern age which is code. Maths, English, coding - why not?”
As a passionate advocate of nurturing the next generation of talent, Strange believes that teaching technology must be taught in a realistic context, advising teachers and career counselors to apply relevant scenarios in the classroom.
“Just make it cool and give it context,” he said. “There are some amazing problems that we face in society that can be solved with core maths skills. Analytics, access to data and predictive analysis on patterns, these are the skills required to solve the problems of the modern age.
“How do you solve the problem of legionnaire's disease in hospital? Through maths.”
As a 30-year industry veteran, Strange questioned the actions currently put forward to arm teachers and career counselors with training.
While specialist skills such as coding open up a wealth of opportunity for Australia, Strange said educators may not be appropriately communicating the growing opportunity to students.
“We need to do better in our explanation of what kids can do with these skills in the future,” he advised. “Coding gives you skills to take into the workforce that makes you special.
“What are we doing about enabling our career counselors in schools?
“If I was a career counselor and was trying to convince a primary school student to study code, I would ask them to name a doctor or a lawyer that makes more money than Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.
“If you look at the mega companies that have been produced over the last few decades like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Snapchat, these are all worth billions and billions of dollars.
“And guess what? The foundations and values are all based around code.”
Jobs of the future
In drawing on over a decade of board-level experience, Strange said the jobs of the future require skills in design thinking and data science, applicable to upcoming jobs as software developers, economists, mathematicians, data analysts and engineers.