Bridging Australia’s notorious digital skills gap requires a rethink of traditional training and education, according to IBM, which is expanding its vocational technology education program in a bid to meet growing demand.

IBM’s ANZ HR Director, Belinda Lewis, says it’s time to reconsider the traditional requirements of full tertiary education for jobs in the tech sector.

“One of the biggest hurdles behind the skills shortage is the one that companies are creating for themselves – relying on outdated recruitment models and job descriptions to fill rapidly evolving digital and technology roles,” Lewis, told Which-50. 

“For instance, a four-year technical degree isn’t always a necessary qualification to respond to cybercrime.”

IBM Australia and New Zealand HR Director, Belinda Lewis. Image: Supplied.

Industry group the ACS has forecasted Australia will need an additional 100,000 ICT workers in the next five years if it is to become a leading digital economy – one of the explicit goals of the current federal government.

At the bleeding edge in Australia, there is a dramatic lack of talent. For example, for every blockchain developer in Australia there are 14 vacant positions, according to research from the CSIRO’s Data61.

Lewis insists the jobs and economic opportunity are there for the taking. But, she says, Australia is not producing enough candidates, which is exacerbated by young people’s “decline in interest” for technical roles and students’ performance in science and mathematics declining over the last decade.

“IBM and other companies are creating competitive, new collar jobs but we and many other companies cannot find workers with the right technology skills to fill them.

“We must ensure workers have the skills and credentials they need for these new collar jobs.”

Promise of P-TECH

According to Lewis, just as important as the technical skills is the right mindset: an “innate curiosity and a willingness to keep learning”.

IBM’s own solution is an industry and education sector partnership to help teach students the most needed skills.  The computer giant cofounded the Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) program in America in 2011. It is now in use in 18 countries, including Australia which launched P-Tech in 2016. 

The NSW government and IBM announced last week that three Central Coast schools will join the program next year.

“What makes P-TECH different is employing a ‘skills mapping’ process and an industry liaison role to ensure that the skills taught are relevant, up to date, and aligned with business needs.  

“P-TECH helps to strengthen regional economies with a workforce more prepared for new-collar jobs and provides current, relevant technical and professional education opportunities to young people from primarily disadvantaged backgrounds.”

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