Balancing quality and quantity in tech

Now, more than ever, technology is at the forefront of our lives. From working from home, to tele-health appointments and staying virtually connected to family and friends across the globe, a vast array of opportunities has emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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The use of digital technology has become even more paramount for businesses, the workforce and the economy. Companies with little or no online presence prior to the pandemic suddenly had to build one to stay afloat. QR codes are now regularly being used to view and order from restaurant menus. Schools and workforces are upgrading technology and using collaboration tools to keep students and employees connected. We’ve also seen virtual house inspections, a significant increase in food deliveries and gyms providing virtual workouts help keep their clients’ bodies moving during lockdowns.

"We need to hire more workers but we need them to be equipped with the digital and technological skillset required to not only stay afloat – but ahead – in this new era.”

These digital trends are unlikely to reverse any time soon. A recent survey conducted by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) found 87 per cent of respondents required digital skills for their role – regardless of the sector they work in.

Australia’s technology workforce grew by 33,400 people in 2020, reaching a new peak of more than 805,500 workers – a 4.5 per cent increase. Compared with other professional industries where workforces grew by 1.3 per cent, the technology sector stands out as a growing employer.

So, what is the labour requirement of this ever expanding, rapidly growing tech environment? Do we need a few, highly qualified technology workers or a larger cohort of workers with more generalised skills?

We need both.

We need to hire more workers but we need them to be equipped with the digital and technological skillset required to not only stay afloat but ahead in this new era. ­­

The recent Australian Computer Society (ACS)-Deloitte Access Economics 2021 Digital Pulse identified three key areas to improve the quantity and quality of technology workers.

Ensure all Australian workers have the tech skills required by employers

In Australia, interest in information technology (IT) degrees has continued to rise with nearly 7,000 students. There has also been a significant uplift in vocational training through certificates too. However, there has been a significant decrease in international enrolments and completion due to travel limitations. On the flipside, government initiatives and incentives are helping encourage local students to enrol.

Software programing has become the most common technical skill, with SQL, Java and DevOps being the top programming skills demanded today. Interestingly, in technology operations, more than half of the top 10 skills sought after were soft skills like communication (requested in 42 per cent of job postings), teamwork and problem solving.

Further, Australia is forecast to require an artificial intelligence (AI) specialist workforce of between 32,000 and 161,000 individuals by 2030. This means we need skills in computer vision, robotics, data science, human language processing and more.

Both technical and non-technical skills will be required if Australia is to make use of existing technology. Australia will require a significant AI workforce and we don’t have those numbers right now. Australian companies need to start thinking about skills in these areas so they don’t get left behind.

Promoting gender diversity in the tech workforce

Women make up 50 per cent of the population yet only 29 per cent of the tech workforce in Australia. The lack of female representation at senior levels is even greater, with women occupying a small percentage of leadership roles at only 18 per cent of CEO roles and 14 per cent of board chairs.

Increased diversity in the workforce would grow Australia’s economy by an estimated $A1.8 billion each year over the next 20 years. That presents a huge opportunity for Australia’s economy to generate $A11 billion dollars simply by employing more females into the sector.

However, despite current efforts by companies, female workers are only growing by 1 per cent each year. Based on current trends, it would take 66 years to catch up to where other industries are at in terms of female participation.

There is an economic impact of halving the time for tech occupations to reach this goal. But not only that, it could also create 5,000 jobs on average each year by doing so. Increasing diversity in the workforce also means technology will better reflect customer demographics. Gender diversity is not just a ‘nice to have’, it’s an economic imperative.

Increasing professionalism in promoting the quality of tech workers in Australia

Professionalism is more than just professional etiquette. It’s about cross-industry collaboration between government, not-for-profit, academia and more. The healthcare sector is a hallmark for what technology needs to aim for.

The constant nature of change in technology has been an extra challenge for where the sector is positioned. Everyone must work together to improve trust, capabilities and efficiency. In doing so, all types of organisations can come armed with a unified approach, encourage more women to enter and stay in the tech workforce, continue to promote education courses in IT and re-energise digital strategies across Australia.

Ultimately, employers are looking for technology workers who can bridge the gap between user needs and digital solutions and bring communication and collaboration skills as well as technical expertise to a role.

It’s critical to leverage untapped talent in order to bridge this gap and increase diversity in the workforce. The reality is, talent is everywhere but opportunity is not.

A new challenge

ANZ’s Return to Work Program (RTW) is designed for people who have taken a career break and would like help transitioning back into the workforce. It aims to empower women to reignite their careers and is an opportunity to inspire thousands more, driving gender equality in the tech workforce.

In the program’s inaugural year, 650 people applied from all over the world. Some had recently migrated to Australia, others were mums and dads who had taken career breaks to look after kids or elderly family members, even entrepreneurs who had their own businesses and were looking to make a change had applied.

Two years on from the commencement of this program, ANZ has retained most participants and launched new programs in Australia, New Zealand and India - more than doubling application numbers.

Bolanle Ugbode relocated from the East Coast of the US to Australia for her husband’s job with their four-year-old daughter in tow. After a few months settling in, Bolanle became pregnant with a second daughter. From a career perspective it was all down-hill from there – she experienced the longest job search of her life.  

Ugbode was told by a well-intended colleague that she should consider changing her name to something more European as it may generate more opportunities. After briefly considering it, she realised that if she had to change a significant part of herself to become more appealing to an organisation then it wasn’t the organisation she would want to work for.

Long job searches and rejections made Ugbode start to imagine she was just not enough – when of course she was. She believes the opportunity at ANZ found her and encouraged her to bring her whole self to work.

“I can embrace who I am as a Black woman, a mother, an African-American. I’m able just to show up as who I am and I’m here ready to work.”

Hear from other women who joined ANZ’s inaugural Return to Work Program in 2019 here.

Carina Parisella is Workforce Tribe Lead at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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