Adaptability Is the Key to Success for Australia’s Workforce

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Last month, I had the privilege of sitting on a Vivid Ideas panel with speakers from UTS, Google, Atlassian, Salesforce and Red Garage Ventures. As Indeed’s chief economist, I was there to add my perspective as someone who works every day with the data from the world’s largest job site. Together, my peers and I were asked about tapping into Australia’s high potential workforce — here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation:

Australia is facing new challenges in talent attraction

Tapping into a talent pool possessing the skills to drive growth and innovation remains a significant challenge for Australian employers, with about half of the hardest to fill Australian jobs in tech skilled roles. This is also a crucial issue for economists: Matching job seekers with the right opportunity can increase productivity, the key engine of economic growth. Simply put, when we’re in the right job, we’re happier and more productive — a win-win for businesses, individuals and society at large.

Connecting candidates with the best fit has always been a concern for employers, and its challenge is at the heart of how Indeed works. But Australia is also facing new and different challenges. Graduate employment is at the lowest rate since the recession in the early 1990s, with many highly qualified graduates struggling to find jobs related to their qualifications.

At the same time, employers are reporting an undersupply of applicants for a range of technical roles such as computer science, accounting and engineering — as well as the fast-growing healthcare sector. More needs to be done to address this mismatch between talent and the job opportunities before them.

The job market is undergoing seismic shifts

Today, millions of jobs are disappearing but millions more are emerging. We are seeing changes happening a lot faster than before. Being unprepared for these changes is what results in talent shortages — this is why adaptability is key.

As my presenter Roy Green, Dean of UTS Business School, said it, “We are at the end of the resources boom and are adjusting to the non-mining economy. We don’t know what this looks like and at the moment, we’re not very well prepared. This doesn’t mean it is too late, we can still make the transition; it means shifting to an economy that’s competitive advantage is based on a knowledge-based market and recognising that a lot of the products we are focussing on today won’t be around in ten years.”

Avoiding skill silos will be essential

Also on the panel was Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community & Outreach Manager at Google. She explained that the major challenge the country faces is that Australians fundamentally still think in disciplinary silos. “We have an incredibly high number of graduates but there’s a translation exercise between the degree they study and an understanding of the jobs that are then open to them,” she explained. “We need to change the way we market to students with careers and outcomes. We’ve always talked about a linear perspective on careers, however, we need to focus more on skill-sets needed and experience beyond the degree.”

In the shifting economy, employers may need to take on a more active role of transitioning graduates from university or entry level roles into higher-skill positions. While they may not come equipped with the exact skill set, recruiting for fit and aptitude may be one way to businesses can encourage talented people to learn and grow on the job.

Cementing Australia as a global destination for top talent

Caitriona Staunton, Head of Recruitment at Atlassian, pointed out that 50% of jobs in the next ten years will be in the tech industry and as a result, Australia needs to do more future-gazing. “We need to make sure we’re working tech into plans to safeguard our quality of life and our kids quality of life,” she said. “Australia needs to work on its brand and showcase the great business and tech culture.”

Staunton outlined there was not enough tech talent in Australia to fill the roles required at Atlassian and Jason Hosking, Co-Founder of Red Garage Ventures agreed that bringing international talent to Australia was a necessity.

We see this on Indeed too. The Indeed Net Interest Score combines a measure of how many people are interested in coming to a country and how many people are interested in leaving. Australia ranks 28th on a list of 56 countries, receiving a score of -0.069 — meaning that more people are seeking to leave than are being attracted or retained.

As Hosking put it, “We need to relook the country’s visa situation — my co-founder is from Iceland with a PhD and we still haven’t been able to gain his PR. Our company’s international talent are beacons to attract local graduates and train them and how we compete as a start-up.”

In fact, migration is helping alleviate skills shortages in several high-skill sectors in Australia. Indeed data shows that Australia is an attractive prospect for these qualified job seekers, with the most international searches are coming from Singapore, Auckland and London.

Australia is also attractive to millennials. People aged 21-30 are most likely to search for Australian jobs and these jobs feature a mix of technical positions such as teacher, software engineer and accountant. Australia ranked 4th in terms of percentage of job searches containing the word Java, ahead of Germany and the UK.

For Salesforce APAC Vice President of Innovation and Digital Transformation, Robert Wickham, the challenge for Australian government and business is to develop a local ecosystem that attracts that kind of world-class talent. “Talent is the fertiliser to this eco-system and culture is the weather,” he said. “The recent innovation push is a good start, but business and government need to understand a home-grown start-up and innovation ecosystem is essential to attracting and keeping world-class talent in Australia.”

Australia is well positioned to lead and come up with solutions to address the job and talent shortage. The changes in the job market don’t look to be slowing down. Luckily, history has shown that there is not a limited number of jobs out there. New kinds of jobs are emerging every day. Rather than try to protect the jobs of the past, let’s train and prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future.

Special thanks to all who participated in this event, including our partners AmCham and the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.