Time for a reality check on local tech talent drought

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It seems that no matter what the government does to invest in local jobs and the local economy, whether it’s Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation agenda or changes to 457 visas, discussions and expectations around local tech skills remain dire.

This is a particular challenge when the development, as well as consumer expectations of technology, are advancing at a rate professionals are struggling to maintain. The natural question from here is: what can we do?

Thinking long term

There needs to be a long-term effort among businesses, government, and the education sector to fill the IT and STEM skills gaps of today. This must start with educating future generations, not necessarily in the hard skills required of today’s engineers and programmers, but rather on how to learn these skills as they change over time. Being able to “learn to learn” with agility and an open mind will be one of the greatest needs of tomorrow’s IT industry.

Furthermore, for professionals already in the workforce, stringent learning and development programs within organisations will ensure today’s experts are empowered to continually upskill throughout their career. While not all organisations can afford the resources required to implement learning and development departments internally, there are a growing number of online resources, continually being updated and improved, for business of any size or structure to tap into for short-term and long-term training.

Consequently, government and businesses need to empower schools to deliver the education required to build long-term IT careers, while businesses also need to collaborate with each other to ensure professionals across the industry have on-demand access to the latest training.

Short-term realism

While we’re trying to “live the dream” of Mr Turnbull’s innovation agenda and ideas boom, we need to be practical and understand where the talent lies today. Australia is generating some fantastic tech talent, but realistically, this only counts for a minor portion of the global talent pool. A lot of the best tech skills are in Silicon Valley and other major tech and innovation hubs around the world, including Singapore, Israel, and India. Companies that remain oblivious or in denial of this will not only lose opportunities to tap into some of the world’s most advanced talent pools, but will also fall behind to savvy competitors.

In addition, when looking at overseas talent pools, Australian businesses need to recognise it’s more than just hard skills on offer. While Australia’s tech scene is rapidly evolving and is far more advanced than other markets in some fields, such as fintech, there is a different pace and style of competitiveness at play in places like Silicon Valley.

The agility, broadness of thinking, and openness to risk and failure required to survive and succeed in these markets are unique, and can offer Australian business leaders a much needed push to think outside the box and take their business to otherwise unimaginable heights.

While the local tech skills shortages won’t be solved overnight, there are short-term initiatives local businesses can explore to ensure they don’t fall behind more competitive international players. It’s important to recognise that looking internally or locally for talent that doesn’t exist will only ensure you draw the short straw in the international battle for talent, and without proactively engaging with local businesses, educational institutions, and government agencies where possible, you’ll only add to the problem for the next generation of IT professionals.

Luan Tran is co-founder and CTO of Cyara.

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