The positive economical and cultural benefits created by boosting STEM skills in Australia have the potential to be huge. Not only for today's workforce, but future generations too.
By 2020, the digital economy is forecast to grow to $139 billion.
Alongside this, the increasingly global nature of business – enabled by technology – provides opportunities for Australian businesses to lead the way on the world stage.
However, the reality is more needs to be done by government, industry and academia to boost ICT skills to ensure Australia capitalises on the digital opportunities ahead. Because by current standards, Australia’s existing talent pool is unlikely to satisfy demand for 700,000+ ICT workers by 2020.
Only 16 per cent of high-school graduates are pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines
While new technologies and processes mean businesses need to reskill employees who were recruited for roles which have since evolved. This need is expected to intensify with CEDA estimating almost five million jobs face a high probability of being replaced in the next decade due to digital disruption.
The ICT skills gap isn’t isolated to Australia either, meaning we risk our best talent moving overseas for work if we don’t address it.
Action is urgently needed.
In Smart Disruption: a perspective on innovation for Australian organisations, we profiled a number of the different steps Australian businesses are implementing to foster a culture designed to develop the attitudes, experiences, and skills needed for the digital economy.
A recurring theme was strong leadership. The best leaders understand they don’t always know everything and instead look to their expert teams to help guide them. This fosters a culture of constant learning, where every individual employee understands the critical role they have to play.
Businesses are harnessing this culture of learning through formal structured and prescriptive learning processes, such as quarterly training themes focused on a core area to ensure the skills developed align with business needs. Others are taking steps to build corporate memories consisting of networking and mentoring programs – including post-implementation reviews, e-learning systems, and buddy systems – where learnings are constantly transferred and celebrated.
Elsewhere, Optus Business found organisations pro-actively expanding the diversity of their workforce by bringing in fresh thinking to integrate and develop the skills they need to transform.
For example, many businesses are seeking to learn from the youth mindset – a positive step to support current business needs, while simultaneously generating an interest in ICT among future generations. One way this is being done is through partnerships between universities and businesses, which offer intern programs, involve students in hackathons, and provide formal recruitment initiatives that create a talent pool of skilled graduates to draw from.
Reverse mentoring programs between senior management and graduates or junior staff are also being used to foster ICT and leadership skills – both ways. As one Smart Disruption respondent summarised, “students are teaching you about the technology they’re using, how they’re communicating with friends, and what’s important to them.” This insight is helping businesses tailor their customer engagement to maximise results.
Established organisations and those businesses born in the digital age are actively looking to hire from one another to build a more diverse workforce with the leadership skills and talent they need. Aulay Macaulay, Managing Director of workforce management software start-up Ento, says of his company’s approach to recruitment:
“Our perfect candidates have a mixture of small business and large in their work history. It’s important for roles like implementation, support, and project management as they understand the rules to play by.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Royston Lim, General Manager, Customer Strategy and Innovation, from established organisation Virgin Australia:
“We want to hire people who will think on their feet, who aren’t necessarily restrained by legacy systems, or the way we’ve always done things.”
Through talent, leadership, and partnerships, businesses must lay the foundations for a culture empowering current employees and future generations to believe they can be savvy innovators in this new economy. It’s about enticing an interest in ICT by demonstrating the potential these roles play in the future of the Australian economy, and raising awareness of the issues by tapping into various mindsets today.
To learn more about the steps Australian businesses are taking to foster a culture of learning and help bridge the country’s ICT skills gap, download the full Smart Disruption report here
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