Industry leaders discuss the challenges facing Australia’s future workforce

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With an economy in transition, Australia is facing new challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining a high potential workforce.  

A panel of leading experts and the latest data revealed by Indeed, the world’s largest job search engine, tapping into a talent pool possessing the skills to drive growth and innovation remains a significant challenge for Australian employers with about half of the hardest to fill Australian jobs in tech skilled roles.

Stacked against this, the research also also revealed that highly qualified graduates are forced to take jobs in unrelated fields and Australia is experiencing employment rates not seen since the 1992-93 recession.

Indeed hosted a panel as part of Vivid Ideas exchange addressing this problem,‘Tapping into Australia’s high potential workforce’ with panellists from UTS, Google, Atlassian, Salesforce and Red Garage Ventures who all agreed more needed to be done to ensure that Australia addresses the current mismatch of talent and job opportunity.

Challenges Australia faces

Chief Economist Tara Sinclair outlined how despite education rates being higher than ever before, both job seekers and employers are each facing substantial challenges.

“In Australia, graduate employment is at the lowest rate since the recession in the early 1990s with many highly-qualified graduates struggling to find jobs related to their qualifications. At the same time, employers are reporting undersupply of applicants for a range of technical roles such as computer science, accounting, and engineering – as well as the fast-growing healthcare sector,” she said.

‘Today’s job market is facing seismic shifts. Millions of jobs are disappearing but millions more are emerging. We are seeing changes are happening a lot faster than before. Being unprepared for these changes is what results in these shortages. Australia needs to learn to adapt to create a successful economy.’

Roy Green, Dean of UTS Business School commented the country needed to shift away from resources to a knowledge based economy, stating that “We are at the end of the resources boom and are adjusting to the non-mining economy. We don’t know what this looks like and at the moment, we’re not very well prepared. This doesn’t mean it is too late, we can still make the transition; it means shifting to an economy that’s competitive advantage is based on a knowledge-based market and recognising that a lot of the products we are focussing on today won’t be around in ten years.”

What can be done?

Sally-Ann Williams of Google said the major challenge the country faces is that Australians fundamentally still think in disciplinary silos.

“We have an incredibly high number of graduates but there’s a translation exercise between the degree they study and an understanding of the jobs that are then open to them.  We need to change the way we market to students with careers and outcomes. We’ve always talked about a linear perspective on careers, however we need to focus more on skill-sets needed and experience beyond the degree.”

Robert Wickham of Salesforce encouraged attendees to be louder and celebrate the successes that Australia already has.

From a business perspective, no one has been recognised as Australian of the year for the past two decades, he said, and once we start celebrating our successful people and businesses we will create role models for our future talent to look up to.

Caitriona Staunton of Atlassian outlined 50 percent of jobs in the next ten years will be in the tech industry and as a result Australia needs to do more future-gazing.

“We need to make sure we’re working tech into plans to safeguard our quality of life and our kids quality of life. Australia needs to work on its brand and showcase the great business and tech culture.”

Staunton continued stating that there was not enough tech talent in Australia to fill the roles required at Atlassian and Jason Hosking, Co-Founder of Red Garage Ventures agreed that bringing international talent to Australia was a necessity.

“We need to relook the country’s visa situation – my co-founder is from Iceland with a PHD and we still haven’t been able to gain his PR. Our company’s international talent are beacons to attract local graduates and train them and how we compete as a start-up.”

Migration as a solution?

Migration is helping alleviate some of the skills shortages in Australia and Indeed data shows that Australia is an attractive prospect for job seekers with the most searches coming from Singapore, Auckland and London.

Those aged 21-30 are most likely to search for Australian jobs and these jobs feature a mix of technical positions such as teacher, software engineer and accountant. In fact Australia ranked 4th in terms of percentage of job searches containing the word Java, ahead of Germany and the UK.

There are impediments that pose a potential risk to Australia’s ability to attract talent and become a technology powerhouse in the region. The biggest obstacles right now are the high cost of living and housing affordability, particularly in Sydney. That’s unlike to change any time soon.

Key data points

  •      There are currently 190,000 places are available in the Australian migration program
  •      International job seekers are 3.2 times more likely to search for computer science or mathematical jobs
  •      The top searches for Australians looking overseas are London, Vancouver, New York and Dublin
  •      There is an undersupply of Australian applicants in technical disciplines of computer sciences, accounting, engineering and the rapidly growing healthcare sector

Concluding the event, the panellists all agreed that it was imperative for Australia to start marketing itself as a tech destination and showcasing local talent and business success stories to the world.

Sinclair said “Australia is well positioned to lead and come up with solutions to address the job and talent shortage.

“The changes in the job market don’t look to be slowing down. Luckily, history has shown that there is not a limited number of jobs out there. New kinds of jobs are emerging every day. Rather than try to protect the jobs of the past, let’s train and prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future.”