Demand for digital skills is 'exploding', but Australia's still going nowhere in the global tech race

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  • 63,000 new tech jobs were created over the last three years and another 100,000 will be needed in the next five.
  • Information and communication technology services exports increased by more than 60% over the past five years to reach $3.2 billion.
  • Australia is no longer a net importer of ICT services, with exports now outstripping imports by $290 million.
  • But the country’s position as a tech-driven economy hasn’t advanced compared to the rest of the world.

Demand for technology industry workers has exploded, but there are early warning signs that Australia could be left behind in the global digital race.

The 2018 edition of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Digital Pulse report forecasts Australia will need an additional tech 100,000 workers, to 758,700, by 2023.

Australia’s workforce grew to 663,100 workers in 2017, an increase of 3.5% from 640,800 in 2016.

Information and communication technology (ICT) services exports have increased by more than 60% over the past five years to reach $3.2 billion in 2016‑17.

And Australia is no longer a net importer of ICT services, with exports now outstripping imports by $290 million.

However, the report prepared by Deloitte Access Economics finds that Australia is standing still when measured for international competitiveness, without any movement over the last five years.

“The demand for digital skills in our economy is exploding,” says ACS President Yohan Ramasundara.

“The growth of artificial intelligence, automation and the internet of things is driving significant disruption across all industries, and highly trained ICT professionals are in more demand than ever before.

“If we want to be competitive in the world economy, we need to invigorate the education and training sectors to increase Australia’s ICT talent pool.”

Australia’s ICT performance is middle of the pack compared with other developed countries, with an average relative ranking of around 7 out of 16 countries across indicators on consumers, businesses, workforce skills and the ICT sector.

Performance on some indicators of ICT economic activity, such as exports and research and development, has improved over recent years but other developed countries have also seen significant growth in digital activity and technological advancements.

Deloitte Access Economics Partner Kathryn Matthews points to early warning signs that Australia could end up a passenger on the digital journey, with other countries in the driver’s seat, which could have flow‑on impacts on productivity and living standards.

“Australia ranks 12th out of the 16 countries on business expenditure on research and development in ICT when R&D is examined as a share of a country’s overall gross domestic product,” she says.

“Couple this with falling behind in the supply of ICT skills in the current workforce and on STEM performance in schools, we cannot afford to be complacent.”

Here’s an overview of Australia’s relative performance across the four competitiveness themes and 15 indicators:

The report says the industry structure of Asutralia’s economy has traditionally been focused around goods‑producing industries such as manufacturing, construction and mining, historically less tech‑intensive industries.

“The shift towards more knowledge‑based and services sectors has been a recent trend and Australia could still be playing catch up on the technological capabilities and digital activity required to accelerate growth in these areas,” the report says.

The report says cyber security is an area where Australia can take a leading role.

“The continued increase in digital economic activity and international connectivity means that cyber risk poses an ongoing challenge for governments, businesses and individuals,” the report says.

“At the same time, investing in our cyber capabilities will raise our overall security and create new opportunities for innovation, job creation and economic growth.”

AustCyber (the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network), an industry‑led government initiative to support growth in Australia’s cyber industry, was created last year.

According the Mike Bareja, Program Manager at AustCyber, Australia’s strengths include a leading research and academic sector in cyber‑related technologies such as crypto, quantum, IoT and smart cities.

Australia also has a reputation as a trusted and secure country in terms of our government and business environment.

But there are also barriers which may slow or limit Australia’s cyber growth potential.

Bareja suggests coordination between states be improved.

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