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Exclusive: Experts outline wishlist for national jobs and skills summit

Labor’s eagerly awaited jobs and skills summit is expected to begin with a discussion on employment, productivity, and gender equality.

Labor has asked for the conference to focus on a number of economic issues, including labour and skill shortages, slow productivity, and stagnant wages. 

Anthony Albanese expects that the jobs and skills conference, which will bring together about 100 representatives from business, labour, and government, will produce “concrete solutions.” 

He added that skills shortages were a “handbrake on economic development” and that the summit, which will take place in Canberra on September 1 and 2, will strive to enhance training opportunities for domestic workers and promote migration. In addition, all State and Territory leaders will be invited to the National Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, August 31, the day before the summit. 

Dynamic Business and Bass Public Relations collaborated to compile expert comments ahead of the National Jobs and Skills Summit, which will be held in Canberra on Thursday, September 1.

Pieter Danhieux, CEO and Co-Founder, Secure Code Warrior

What impact is the ongoing skills crisis having on Australia’s IT sector?

“I think many organisations, from hospitality through to IT and others, are experiencing challenges sourcing skilled workers. It can become difficult to balance “business as usual” with future planning and innovation at the best of times, but when short-handed it can verge on impossible. It makes you appreciate the magic of a solid team even more.”

Do you see the situation changing any time soon?
“There are a lot of external factors out of our control, and competition is high. We just have to do what we can to create desirable, nurturing workplaces that are going to help people grow and succeed.”

What initiatives are companies taking to attract and retain skilled staff?
“For us, remote working is a big one. We have always offered flexible work, but trusting the skilled professionals you hire to work from home significantly increases the talent pool, and you get to meet great people who offer diverse perspectives and skillsets.

What role should the education sector be playing?

“The education sector should continue building on the great work being done to welcome more people into STEM fields. It is crucial that we continue encouraging and making space for women and people of diverse backgrounds in more technical careers and moving forward together with the strength that only viewpoints from different walks of life can bring. 

“There is such a wide range of potential careers, just in cybersecurity alone. I think most people could find their niche.” 

Should there be more of a focus on getting older people to return to the workforce?

“Yes, absolutely. The wealth of knowledge and practical experience that older people can bring to the table cannot be underestimated. 

“Perhaps looking at how we can facilitate general upskilling for those who feel a little left behind would be encouraging and help people who have been out of the workforce for a short time return with confidence.”

How can companies encourage existing staff to reskill and shift into IT?

“If the option exists within the organisation, then it’s a no-brainer to retain existing staff if they have a desire to pursue more IT-based roles. Offering engaging training and mentoring is helpful to support their transition, and it can be beneficial for multiple teams in the business.”

Brad Drysdale, Field Chief Technology Officer – APAC, Kong

What impact is the ongoing skills crisis having on Australia’s IT sector?

“It’s definitely had an impact on offshore providers bringing lower-cost IT services on-shore for project-based work.  Indeed, making local IT industry an employee-market, with talent hard to attract, recruit and retain, is probably also driving up inflationary pressures when you factor in the salary ask increases.  Businesses are looking at how they can thrive with these constraints in place, and it means a focus on Cloud, a broader skill sets and making existing developers more efficient so they can do more with less, and do happier work to reduce the risk of churn. Automation is helping to automate a lot of manual tasks as well as speeding up more complex ones for which human skills are hard to obtain

Do you see the situation changing any time soon?

“The macroeconomic headwinds are resulting in pools of talent appear on the market through layoffs or collapses/failed companies.  The pressure to innovate in the digital world is not relenting, in fact it continues to pick up pace, so organisations need to find ways to continue to innovate at scale with existing staff and ongoing issues with attracting new staff.  APIs, Microservices, Cloud and Automation are all enablers.”

What role should the education sector be playing?

“There should be more focus on STEM, across a broader, more diverse, more inclusive demographic.  Making technology part of every facet of education. Every business is a technology business, meaning every role in every company needs an understanding of technology and digital innovation

Should IT vendors be working more closely with universities to make courses more practical and relevant to the current market?

“Yes. It results in more rounded students with exposure to business aspects of their learned skills.  It also gives the IT vendors early access to fresh talent who don’t have a strong (or often any) CV to support their application for employment, but real, practical “intern” insights/experience

Should there be more of a focus on getting older people to return to the workforce?

“Yes. And it’s more possible than ever now with a massive focus on remote/flexi-working arrangements.”

How can companies encourage existing staff to reskill and shift into IT?

“Show them the ambitions and desired future outcomes the company is trying to achieve.  When employees are emotionally attached to the future of the company, they are more inclined to “think outside the box” and want to engage in ways to help achieve them.  We’re all customers of many businesses, many of which we (as customers) have a desire to see them do better in this digital world and are rooting for their success. Bringing this mindset into an existing employer provides emotional attachment to achieve the same goals in-house.”

How do you think Australia’s skills visa and migration might need to change to assist in solving the IT security skills shortage?

“Getting the right balance between making it easier to bring talent into the country with ensuring local workers don’t lose out is important.”

Jean Scott, People and Culture Manager, Somerville 

“The ongoing skills shortage is causing issues for many organisations, but at the same time it is actually a positive for anyone with professional qualifications and experience. They are currently very much in demand and can choose from a large pool of vacancies. Candidates can also demand more flexible working conditions such as the ability to work from home.”

“IT professionals who are currently employed and not looking to move are likely to find themselves under pressure to take on additional workloads while also upskilling. Unless carefully managed, this could lead to a poor work / life balance and eventual burnout. Employers need to carefully monitor for this situation and proactively take steps to solve it before staff are lost.”

“Aside from increasing compensation packages, one of the best ways an organisation can retain staff is to provide flexible working conditions. This could involve allowing staff to work from home for a portion of the week, or complete tasks outside of conventional office hours. Being able to better match the demands of work with an individual’s personal life will make them much more likely to remain in their role.”

“Organisations can also encourage and support staff to undertake ongoing professional development training. This could result in fast-tracked career progression and higher compensation packages.”

“Reskilling existing staff so they can change roles and work in IT is another excellent way to help alleviate the skills crisis. Training can become part of the working week with any course costs covered by the employer.”

“Education about IT needs to begin at a much younger age. Primary students need to understand the wealth of exciting career opportunities that exist and how quickly the landscape is evolving. IT sector leaders should be invited to present at schools and give real-world accounts of their experiences.”

“There needs to be strong partnerships forged between schools, universities, and IT vendors. This will help to ensure that courses are tailored to meet market requirements and deliver well educated young people who can enter and thrive in the sector.”

“Tertiary education bodies should also be targeting older people in an effort to encourage them back into the workforce equipped with new knowledge and skills. This could be particularly valuable in the area of cybersecurity where the skills crisis is particularly acute.”

Andrew Davenport, Managing Director, Switch

What impact is the ongoing skills crisis having on Australia’s IT sector?

“At its most base level, skills shortages slow business down and drive costs up. Neither outcome of which is conducive to economic growth or transformation.”

Do you see the situation changing any time soon?

“No. The root causes of skills shortages are varied, from education planning to ever changing visa policies. I think it will take a while to ease pressures and even longer for systemic changes to work their way through.”

What initiatives are companies taking to attract and retain skilled staff?

“In our services sector, we operate as a specialist provider concentrating on one area of digital experience technology and with one software partner. I think building and investing in a specialism is helpful as far as investment in people is concerned. Continual Professional Development is important to get right and for us, flexible working has become a decision-making mechanism for talent. We now have a permanent working from home policy as a means of retaining our team.”

What role should the education sector be playing?

“Its critical the education and industry are aligned on future strategies. That the syllabus changes to prepare children for a rapidly evolved job market. As a parent I am sure my frustrations would be shared by many at how disconnected the school focus appears to be. We’ve been through a technology driven work revolution in the past twenty years. How much has the education truly changed to keep pace in the same period?

Should IT vendors be working more closely with universities to make courses more practical and relevant to the current market?

“Yes, industry leaning in to avoid waiting for government is also very important I believe.”

Should there be more of a focus on getting older people to return to the workforce?

“Yes. We have a generation of people who have seen and adjusted through a lot of technology driven change. That adaptability and newly learned skills are going to waste. Ageism is a reality in recruitment. It’s ridiculous to think that an older person cannot add value as a employee in a technical or digital role.”

How can companies encourage existing staff to reskill and shift into IT?

“From what I have seen, change management is a poor cousin to technology investment and this again, slows change. Implementation is half the success criteria, adoption and optimisation are equally important to driving the return on investment.

“I don’t think it’s question of encouragement. Business planning is driving technology investment to increase revenue or drive down operating cost. Investing in re-skilling people has to go hand in hand.”

How does the situation in Australia compare with other countries?

“I’m unsure. I would imagine that there are very similar challenges across the developed world. The economy is key to driving forward. As is immigration. If we can’t find skills locally we should be making it much easier to welcome skills from all over the world.”

How do you think Australia’s skills visa and migration might need to change to assist in solving the IT security skills shortage?

“I think we need to stop assuming that we are doing people a favour by letting them in and understand that we are in competition with other economies for talent.

“I think we need to change our rhetoric and do as much as possible to welcome as many skilled migrants as we can, with ease.  I don’t believe that’s the message Australia gives. And I think that’s damaging.”

Michael Savanis, Chief Revenue Officer, NextMinute

What impact is the ongoing skills crisis having on Australia’s IT sector?

“The IT skills sector shortage is having a profound impact on businesses in Australia in a number of ways. Losing an employee is a costly experience – not only does it take an extended period of time to find the right candidate, you then need to onboard and ensure a seamless transition which is not often possible. In addition, simple economics points to when there is a shortage of a commodity, prices go up. That is exactly what is happening now in the recruitment space.

“That additional pressure on salaries has not been budgeted, nor paying recruitment fees. So either the revenue targets go up to make up this shortfall, or the headcount is delayed, which has repercussions on revenue attainment. In addition, new industries have sprung up to take advantage of this and offering remote, out-of-country talent as a service. Ultimately, it’s an additional expense that hasn’t been budgeted and that adds pressure at all levels of an organisation.”

Do you see the situation changing any time soon?

“Given current recessionary indicators, it will soften but ultimately the skills shortage remains. Given we are only recently coming out of the pandemic, skilled immigtation to Australia was curtailed and hence the skills shortage emerged. 

What initiatives are companies taking to attract and retain skilled staff?
“Companies are adopting a number of measures to head this situation at the pass. Initiatives such as work-from-home, additional leave & benefits entitlements, better career pathing programs, are just some of the items now being addressed. Arguable, they should have already been there but now these are gaining a more prominent role. 

What role should the education sector be playing?

“The education sector (who is also suffering during these times both in international student revenues and talent shortages) can partner with companies to develop pathways into the working sector. Companies can also look to taking on more interns for work experience thus making this a mutually symbiotic relationship.

Should IT vendors be working more closely with universities to make courses more practical and relevant to the current market?

“An initiative that NextMinute is working on is the NextMinute Academy, where we will look to partner with local TAFEs and colleges associated with the residential building industry. The purpose of the NextMinute Academy is to develop a unique source of knowledge for all in the industry developing content that allows small businesses to start up and support their requirements for accounting and bookkeeping.

Should there be more of a focus on getting older people to return to the workforce?
“This will all depend upon the individual but age should never be a discriminatory or exclusion criteria for a role. There is merit in looking at fractional roles for retirees though and it’s worth pursuing as a concept.

Andrew Balmaks, CEO, Noetic

What impact is the ongoing skills crisis having on Australia’s IT sector?

The skills crisis is significantly impacting the ability to deliver advisory and consulting services required by organisations. Because of these skills shortages there is increased competition between professional services firms for the available talent seeing bidding wars and in some cases active poaching of staff.  

Do you see the situation changing any time soon?

“Not in the short term as the skills shortage is not restricted to certain industries or geographic locations.”

What initiatives are companies taking to attract and retain skilled staff?

“For those that are serious about attracting the right people and retaining talent an Employer Value Proposition is essential.  The EVP must be genuinely representative of the company in terms of what it offers staff (with the evidence of a track record of this) and must be delivered upon. 

What role should the education sector be playing?

Difficult to increase supply through education if there is demand across the board rather than in specific areas. That said the education sector needs to be responsive to identified changing needs and potentially fast tracking people into the workforce through ongoing ‘stepped’ learning through micro-qualifications.

Should IT vendors be working more closely with universities to make courses more practical and relevant to the current market?

Yes but this needs to be incorporated in a way that doesn’t limit the learner to the ‘here and now’ but still equips them for the future. This could be done through the stepped learning noted above.

Should there be more of a focus on getting older people to return to the workforce?

One hundred percent! There is a wealth of talent out there we are not tapping into. This needs to be implemented with the appropriate flexible working arrangements that allows older people to participate in a sustainable and productive manner – it can’t just replicate the one size fits all approach to employment.

How can companies encourage existing staff to reskill and shift into IT?

Show them the future and importance of technology more broadly (rather than just IT) to society and work. Show them a progression pathway post reskilling rather than just a job.

How do you think Australia’s skills visa and migration might need to change to assist in solving the IT security skills shortage?

Needs to be streamlined – takes too long while other country’s visa processes are much quicker. Also there needs to be consideration of identifying pathways to residency for visa holders that makes interest and uptake even more attractive.

Ben Waters, Co-founder and COO – Cydarm Technologies

“The cybersecurity sector has been faced with an acute skills shortage for an extended period of time. Studies have shown that there are at least 17,000 places that need to be filled in Australia.”

“One of the challenges is that it takes quite some time for people to complete a degree and be in a position to take up a role. For this reason, increasing numbers of organisations are looking to attract people from other disciplines and encourage them to shift into cybersecurity.”

The business impact

“The staff shortages are leading to increased pressure on those already working in the security space. This pressure is particularly acute for those working in security operations and incident response.”

“There is a lot of burnout and people are tending to switch jobs much more often than they otherwise would. This, in turn, is placing increased pressure on businesses that need to undertake seemingly constant recruitment programs and offer additional incentives to attract staff.”

“Staff losses also mean that organisations lose a lot of historical and contextual knowledge. When those who are familiar with an organisation’s IT infrastructure and security measures depart, it can take a while before their replacements are fully up and running with all the knowledge that is required.”

Steps that can be taken

“To overcome the potential for disruption that could occur when staff leave, it is very important for organisations to document their security measures and processes fully. This documentation should include incident response plans that will guide staff in the event that a cybersecurity attack takes place.”

“It’s also important for organisations to select and deploy platforms that support incident response teams, as their jobs are stressful and have time pressures. The platform needs to be as frictionless as possible to ensure teams can operate effectively     . Many platforms tend to be optimised around the data rather than the user experience so careful selection is important.”

“Organisations should shift to hiring people on the basis of their attitude rather than their technical knowledge. If someone has the right attitude, they can be reskilled to work in security relatively quickly.”

“With an organisation’s Security Operations Centre (SOC), care must be taken to ensure that the work done by  staff members is commensurate with their knowledge and experience, and that there are checks in place to validate their work so that the likelihood of a data breach is minimised. As that knowledge grows over time, their responsibilities can be increased.”

Simon Pollard, Board and CEO Advisor

“Australia’s IT skills shortage is not unique, but we can learn from others’ solutions.  Across Asia Pacific and the world, the shortage of IT skills is a common feature of the post-pandemic economy. The causes are not difficult to find, but solutions are. Many countries and companies are taking unusual steps to address the problem, some of which have a good chance of working and could be introduced here.

“First up, we need to accelerate home-grown talent.  In addition to accelerating the reintroduction of immigration of offshore IT skills by tweaking the visa process, many countries are providing incentives that accelerate the availability of domestic IT talent. The best programs have a “dumbell” shape, attacking the availability of graduates and also of retention and return of older workers.

“These include tax breaks for companies that increase their IT training, that hire IT students before graduation and provide internships students can get university credit for, and direct funding to companies that sign up with universities for IT skills training at scale. In Vietnam, for example, one global IT company has received government credits that equal their hiring budget, by establishing a joint practical skills program with the largest technical university in the country, that covers 300 students in the first year. Similar programs in France incentivise companies to retain aging workers with IT experience, and even to re-hire retired alumni. If these sorts of programs were promoted and adopted at scale, experts estimate Australia could solve half its shortage in two years.

“We also need to focus.  Not all IT skills are equal. A country should already have a clear national strategy for the areas that industries believe can be prioritised to create a sustainable national competitive advantage. There is no point in Australia developing mainframe management skills at scale. We have a global leadership position in cybersecurity, and in quantum computing, to name but two areas. Let’s focus policy and university efforts on those. A dollar spent in these areas is a dollar saved in desktop computing. In India, state governments are focusing on skills where the industries that base themselves in those states have the biggest need; advanced manufacturing technology in Tamil Nadu to support the steel industry, networking skills in Bangalore to support the IT services industry, and so on.

“Finally, we shouldn’t waste a crisis.  Australia should seize the opportunity to train a new workforce for future industries that are dependent on technology. We have the opportunity to create a green economy from the climate crisis. As we re-wire the electricity system from generation to distribution to retail consumption, as we create new companies in industries we cannot yet envisage, we will need skills in technologies that don’t yet exist. In Europe and the United Kingdom, software startups are building cloud platforms that enable companies to plan, track and adjust their emissions reduction to meet corporate and national goals. These tools require the application of familiar skills to new problems, and the creation of new skills – for example, in AI and machine learning, because the biggest emitters rely on embedded technologies that are managed at scale by distributed bots at the device level, such as mining.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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