Australia needs workers with technology skills to enable the success of our businesses. However, many reports have suggested that the digital literacy of the next generation has dwindled and this country is falling behind other nations in the innovation stakes.
The accelerating adoption of cloud services, for instance, has resulted in a skills gap for IT workers who are properly trained and certified to use the latest cloud environments.
IT chiefs gathered at Sydney’s Rockpool restaurant recently to discuss how they are dealing with the challenge of finding people with the right technology skills to drive their businesses forward. The event was sponsored by Amazon Web Services.
In a rapidly evolving cloud environment, it is becoming crucial to have technical experts who are knowledgeable about cloud systems and infrastructure. They can quickly learn and deploy new technologies to support customer driven digital transformation, says Amazon Web Services’ managing director, A/NZ, Paul Migliorini.
“Organisations are looking for skills in many domains ranging from cloud migration skills to capabilities in areas such as DevOps. We are also seeing an increased demand in specialist areas like IoT, machine learning/artificial intelligence, analytics and databases.”
“All of this demand has created a skills gap in the marketplace. With more than 80 per cent of enterprise IT organisations predicted to take up cloud architectures by the end of 2017, market competition for certified cloud architects will only get more intense,” he says.
Westpac Group is seeing an impending skills issue across its workforce of people who are over the age of 35, says the bank’s general manager, application development, group technology, Tim Whiteley.
“The way we work is constantly changing which means our workforce must adapt with the changes or risk being outstripped by the pace of technology.” “The shift is driven by technology changes from social, mobile, analytics and cloud-based technology to robotics and AI.”
Whiteley says that 65 per cent of staff at Westpac are older than 35. This group is most at risk because unlike the previous generation of staff who are retired, they cannot expect their current skills to last in their career, especially when we live and work longer than we do now.
Telstra’s CIO John Romano adds that the IT sector is very competitive and the telco is proactively recruiting and searching for highly qualified technologists.
“We’ll continue to identify new skill set requirements and develop our people internally to meet these requirements as well as recruit externally,” Romano says.
British American Tobacco’s head of IT security, Asia Pacific, Derek Chen, says the global company does not have an issue with putting ‘bums on seats’ but finding the right security specialists who understand business value is still a struggle.
A senior tech executive supporting research activities at the large Australian university, adds that the organisation can recruit juniors internal through graduate student programs but specialist skills are hard to find.
“We’re struggling to find the right people with the right skills in the areas of high performance computing and big data analysis as well as technical candidates with good soft (people and project) skills who can support of range of projects.”
“Scarcity is making us collaborate more aggressively with peer and partner organisations to ensure critical mass of skills in Sydney and nationally.”
What do we need to do now?
In today’s software-led and highly agile environments, successful organisations need to be very deliberate about what capabilities they build in house versus the capabilities they outsource, says AWS’ Migliorini.
They need to do this for two reasons. Firstly, skills are scarce, relatively expensive and can take a long time to hire for, he says.
“Depending on an organisation’s size, the most cost-effective solution could be to train your existing IT staff, allowing them to leverage their knowledge of current systems, infrastructure and business objectives,” says Migliorini.
Secondly, the nature of work today in core areas is dynamic and iterative, with many organisations moving to Agile business models as an example.
“Therefore it becomes difficult to outsource these skills. Rather we are seeing more organisations work with partners in certain areas with simultaneously developing an internal training plan to develop skills in new areas,” he says.
Continuous learning is vital
Westpac has a culture of continuous learning where its workforce can constantly retrain, reskill and adapt to change, says Whiteley. The bank’s internal technology university platform, TechU, encourages social, collaborative and self-directed learning, he says. Staff can access the platform using their bank desktop, smart phones and tablets.
“This is a prime example of the changing landscape of corporate learning, shifting from the traditional model of skills augmentation to one of more constant reskilling. We also partner with the likes of MIT and UNSW for more specialised courses as well as face-to-face learning opportunities,” Whiteley says.
Telstra has also identified the skills and training needed for today and over the coming 12 to 18 months, says Romano. As the telco develops new cloud capabilities and products in the market, the technical teams are trained in new technology alongside the partner engineering and development teams, to ensure they stay at the forefront of technology, he says.
Everyone has a role to play
Australia is a smart country with a long history of innovation. But to thrive in the digital revolution, we need to get smarter, more productive and more innovative, says Westpac’s Whiteley.
“Everyone has a role to play and we need to better step up our commitment to improve technology education as these jobs are vital to just about every sector of the economy not just financial services,” he says.
“Business and industry need to take the lead on this and we must act now to create a bright future for our economy and for the IT sector in this country.”
A senior IT executive at a large university says the IT industry needs to do a better job of marketing the career-changing profiles within IT.
“We are no longer geeks in dark rooms. Creativity, marketing and even psychology can be great study disciplines to set people up for a successful career in IT so we need to broaden our net and market ourselves better,” he says.
The exec says his organisation is attempting to develop a pipeline with one of its larger vendors where staff are trained on the vendor’s tools and technology.
“Governments, and indeed institutions such as mine, need to be more nimble in their support in preparing the next generation of IT talent. Our industry is one that undergoes constant and rapid change when compared to other professions such as law, traditional science and medicine.”
“Governments and higher education institutions are traditionally cumbersome and slow to evolve. Governments could target courses or skill sets and subsidise course fees to develop potential candidates,” he says.
AWS’ Migliorini says that over time skills will play a fundamentally critical role in Australia’s success – societally as well as in business and economic prosperity.
“Skills will be key in the short-term in our customers and partners, in the medium term through tertiary programs, and over the long term by inspiring and enabling primary and secondary boys and girls to pursue a career in entrepreneurship and innovation.”
“Further, these skills are easier to acquire than many may think,” he says. “The government can help by investing in cloud computing education programs and removing barriers that may prevent individuals for pursuing cloud training. We are at day one of an amazing opportunity and enabling long term skills development will be key.”