The competitive advantage cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have over their smaller and rural rivals when it comes to tech talent is being eroded by the shifting demands placed on tomorrow’s graduates.
This is presenting an opportunity for the rest of Australia that has been historically starved of the right people for tech. With strong support from government, the rest of Australia can capitalise on these shifting demands and make tech in this country a truly national industry.
Australia is already trying to do this by prioritising STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. The trouble is there have been fundamental problems with STEM education for some time.
STEM graduates have a well-known tendency to be tremendous coders because that’s what the system gears them towards. These skills are important, but the coding taught 10 years ago is useless today.
Not only is the rate of change in this area increasing, but it’s apparent to everyone that advances in artificial intelligence will make a lot of rote-learnt STEM skills obsolete. We need graduates to think more creatively to provide value into the future.
The response from industry has been to add the letter “A” for “arts” to create STEAM. But talk to anyone from Silicon Valley and you’ll find STEAM is almost dead as well.
You can’t just add arts to the average coding graduate and expect them to be a creative tech thinker. This is a simplistic solution that is failing to prepare our graduates for the rigours of a tech career in the next 10 years.
As an aside, it’s widely known our education system has created a problem of diversity in our industry. We have another diversity problem — diversity of thought. And this fails to address that as well.
Industry has finally started to realise this and you’ll see the big tech companies are looking outside the usual STEM and STEAM pathways for the next generation of graduates.
If governments and business work together to promote creativity as an essential tech skill, it’ll further empower the broader economy to stop outsourcing their tech to Sydney and Melbourne.
Down in Tasmania, we’ve had our challenges finding the right people for the right jobs. You don’t have the same pool of talent. But there are case studies to illustrate a model for the future.
We design software and we found a Billy Blue School of Design graduate down here in Hobart. Couldn’t believe our luck. Then we heard his story.
He ran the gauntlet of internships in Sydney, which is a highly competitive market. He had to travel two hours every day, every job that he went for he was up against it. And the reality facing everyone in his position is that even if you do secure a career, the cost of living, inflated by the higher wages of these markets, means you’re still behind the eight ball in terms of lifestyle.
In Hobart, the cost of living is much lower, there’s less traffic. Once our workers get a taste of what it’s like to work for a global tech company with Tasmania’s entrepreneurial spirit, they see the tech hubs in their proper context.
Australia needs to step up its game in reimagining tech education as a creative industry. If we do this, the benefits will stretch well beyond Sydney and Melbourne.
Simon Tyrrell is chief product officer with ASX-listed software company LiveTiles.
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