Australia needs to recruit thousands more tech workers

Australia needs to train and recruit tens of thousands more tech workers to fuel the economy and should not be distracted by the ā€œblipā€ forcing many tech giants to cut their workforces, a National Press Club audience has heard.

Technology Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder warned the country would need policy changes and funding initiatives to boost the industry as progress was not being made fast enough.

Failing to act would see Australia face a shortfall of more than 180,000 workers by 2030, she said.

Ms Pounder issued the warning in her press club speech in Canberra on Wednesday while addressing the tech industryā€™s needs in a post-pandemic environment.

She said the Tech Council, which represents firms from start-ups to unicorns Canva and Atlassian, wanted to see 1.2 million people working in tech roles in Australia by 2030, and for technology to contribute $250 billion a year to Australiaā€™s bottom line.

But she said the country was training too few new tech workers and was already failing to fill roles.

ā€œConcerningly, for the last decade the number of people training for and entering tech jobs has remained far lower than the jobs available in Australia,ā€ Ms Pounder said.

ā€œThere are roughly the same number of Australians undertaking IT bachelor degrees today as there were in 2002. Thatā€™s back when broadband rarely existed, that is a time when phones were used for calls, before Facebook was founded.ā€

Despite low graduate numbers, jobs in technology doubled over the past decade in Australia, she said, and grew nine per cent to more than 900,000 in the year to November 2022.

Jobs rose even during widespread redundancies in the tech sector, including major cuts at Facebook, Google and Twitter, which also slashed roles for local workers.

But Ms Pounder said, like the dot-com bubble of 2000, job cuts in tech would be temporary.

ā€œThe high-profile lay-offs we have seen lately are due to short-term problems facing all industries,ā€ she said.

ā€œBlips like this will come and go and they canā€™t and wonā€™t change the trend that more of our jobs and more of what we make in Australia will rely on tech. And thatā€™s the future we have to start building for today.ā€

The industry leader called for a raft of changes to ensure Australia could close the gap in tech, including streamlining the migration system for specialised tech workers, and encouraging ā€œmore women, older Australians, people from regional areas, Indigenous Australians, and people with a disability into tech jobsā€.

Greater investments from government agencies were also needed to support innovation in Australia, Ms Pounder said, particularly during the current economic downturn, and with smaller firms innovating in fields including ā€œquantum, (artificial intelligence), cyber and biotechā€.

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Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)

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