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Why tech skills shortage could harm our economy for next 200 years

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Australia is counting on technology to become the backbone of the national economy for the next two centuries.

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But new research has found the nation could fail to capitalise on $10 billion in projected industry growth through a digital skills shortage among its workforce.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe last week emphasised the prosperity of Australia’s future generations hinged on the development of new technology.

In a speech to the National Press Club, Lowe said he often told his children the nation’s wealth over the last 200 years came from what was dug up from and grown in the soil.

Not for much longer, he said.

“Over the next 200 years, it’s going to be what comes out of here,” Lowe said on Wednesday, pointing to his head, “Not what comes out of the land.”

“I make sure I tell my kids to study, which they do, and to understand technology and that will drive better living standards for them.”

But what if Australia’s workers of today – let alone tomorrow – don’t have the digital literacy to match forecast growth?

A report from RMIT Online and Deloitte Access Economics, published on Tuesday, has found Australia will need another 156,000 new technology workers by 2025 to “turbocharge the economy”.

Over the next four years, it estimates a post-coronavirus boom within the technology, media and telecommunications industry could be worth $10 billion to businesses.

However, based on its survey of over 1000 Australian working professionals and employers, the researchers found recent additional training efforts “won’t be enough to fill the gap”.

The report said 87 per cent of jobs now require digital skills, yet a fourth of respondents said they lacked skills to complete their day-to-day tasks.

Of those surveyed, 29 per cent reported their critical thinking skills improved over the course of the pandemic.

But it wasn’t accompanied by a similar uptick in technical skills, with more than half of people still having little to no understanding of coding, blockchain, AI and data visualisation.

“Not addressing the skills needs will leave some Australians behind,” the report said.

“Already, 50,600 Australians reported lacking necessary skills or education as their main difficulty to finding work.

“Further, 20 per cent of Australians surveyed think there is a real possibility that they will be made redundant.”

Most employees want to upskill, the surveys indicated, with over half saying they would choose additional training over free lunches at work.

But only about half of respondents had access to work-provided training and even if they did, many found time commitments to be a learning barrier.

Helen Souness, chief executive of RMIT Online, said responding to the digital skills gap was a “national imperative” as Australia’s economic recovery would heavily rely on technologically savvy workers.

She said the research shows not only an appetite among Australians to enhance their digital skills, but “a dire need to do so in order to both bolster and modernise our economy so that we can keep up with the ever-evolving digital landscape”.

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