So much attention goes on the technology part of digitalization. We forget that it has to be implemented by talented people to fulfill its promise.
The markets are beginning to realize this as digitalization gathers pace. Despite all the talk about robots and automation, the digital workforce is growing fast.
The digital workforce is growing fast
One of the big themes of the last year has been how the COVID-19 disruptions have accelerated the digitization of organizations. It seems that in Australia, it also accelerated the growth of the digital workforce.
The 2021 edition of the Australian Computer Society’s Digital Pulse report tracked some of the key trends in the nation’s technology workforce and its potential growth over the next five years. There are some interesting findings there.
For example, Australia’s technology workforce has jumped by 33,400 over the last twelve months, up by 4.3% in only a year.
Out of the 12 million employed Australians, just over 800,000 are in digital jobs in rapidly transforming finance, utilities, construction, and retail sectors.
The areas most impacted by the pandemic are healthcare and education. They also saw the most significant increase in the technology workforce, with more than 3000 new roles created.
Some sectors saw decreases. Mining and agriculture saw overall employment growth, yet the number of technology workers fell by 200 and 400.
The ACS points out that this may have been a lost opportunity in these industries, as it is a trend that goes against the broader trend of accelerating digital transformation.
The report goes further than looking at the last 12 months, forecasting that the technology workforce will exceed 1.1 million workers over the next five years. The expected growth is more than four times greater than that for the general workforce. That is an average annual growth of 5.4% for the IT workforce over the next five years.
More younger workers are joining
Younger Australians are joining the digital workforce at a rapid pace. IT is the fastest-growing field of education for domestic enrolments in tertiary courses with over 41,000.
Despite this, there is still a looming skills shortage. Current trends indicate an impending gap between the need for 60,000 technology workers each year and an education system that produces just 7,000 domestic IT degree graduates.
The most in-demand skills include SQL, requested by 14% of job ads posted, Java (10%) ad DevOps (9%).
For the future, it is little surprise that areas such as AI will be in increasing demand.
Rupert Grayson, the chief executive of ACS, said he estimated that in five years, Australia would require an AI specialist workforce of between 32,000 and as many as 161,000.
Face it; we need skilled migration
Reskilling existing workers is one solution to the looming shortage, but the other route — skilled migration — has a big question mark against it due to the ongoing border closures.
While the Australian economy is bouncing back strongly, it could be that the inability to access more skilled IT talent will constrain growth and hold back the recovery.
It is one for the politicians who have responded controversially by banning flights from India. They should perhaps consider a little more deeply, as India continues to be a significant source of IT talent and Australia is competing with other nations, such as the U.S., in attracting it.
“If the Government wants to meet its new target of under 5% unemployment, reskilling and upskilling the workforce for technology roles is a vital part of the solution,” says Rupert Grayson.
As Deloitte Access Economics partner John O’Mahony puts it: “Digital technology saved Australia from the worst consequences of the COVID-19 recession and promises to be a major opportunity to strengthen the economy and create jobs as we move into recovery phase.”
The report is unequivocal. Digital technology is not only the future but so are technology workers.
A country like Australia needs to understand that this takes investment and smart policy at a Government level. If they get it right, then the broader economy and the nation will benefit.
With the Australian Government on a countdown to what it claims will be an “employment boosting” budget this week, it will be interesting to see if the digital skills shortage will be addressed.
Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends, and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/Prostock-Studio