The New South Wales government has admitted that collaborating with big tech multinationals will be crucial to building out the state’s digital infrastructure, as it too starts to feel the impacts of Australia’s tech skills shortage.
Speaking on a panel at the state’s digital.nsw event on Wednesday, NSW director of ICT and digital sourcing Mark Lenzner said his team is leaning on foreign companies like Microsoft, SAP and ServiceNow to build out the state’s tech capabilities.
“Everyone is struggling for digital talent, digital skills,” Lenzner said.
“Whilst we would love many of those out there looking for work in that area to join the New South Wales government, we are also realistic that much of that capability and capacity will come from industry,” he said.
“And we need to be prepared to partner with industry; open our doors to doing business with industry, from whom much of that capability will come from.”
Just last week, some of Australia’s biggest tech startups told the market that they were struggling to fill specialist tech roles.
Culture Amp, the workplace survey startup valued at $2.05 billion, said it has some 100 roles to fill, while Employment Hero, a HR tech startup, said it had 50 jobs going.
Legacy businesses like Telstra, meanwhile, are even worse off, as they try to fill 1,000 tech roles with a fickle talent pool, many of whom are intent on heading to more future-focused tech roles.
It’s an issue Lenzner has been trying to address by shaking up procurement processes in the state since he arrived from Westpac in 2018.
Since then, he’s established a procurement task force aimed squarely at handing out a larger volume of government contracts to the local tech industry.
The taskforce, established last year, is expected to funnel as much as $2.1 billion into the local industry over the next few years through the government’s Digital Restart Fund.
But it has since been forced to undergo policy changes after larger, ineligible businesses were found to have misclassified their businesses in a bid to game the application process and secure government contracts they weren’t entitled to.
On Wednesday, Lenzner said tighter policy restrictions, and the help of big tech multinationals, will be crucial in making sure local contracts go to a diversified, budding local industry.
“Once you presume that we have that local capability and it’s here, I think we need policy frameworks in government and a cultural shift in government that encourages us to move away from our tried and proven incumbent providers and try a more diverse set of suppliers,” he said.
“There are great organisations in New South Wales ready to help us. We just need to have the environment that encourages them to want to partner with us.”
Lenzer’s remarks arrive in the midst of a broader industry drive to plug the hole left by Australia’s tech skills shortage with training programs of their own.
Among the earliest to try and address the issue was Amazon, with the launch of its AWS re/Start program in 2020, which the company told Business Insider Australia has so far seen surging course completions, adding to the 200,000 graduates certified by the firm’s upskilling efforts.
At a global level — AWS wasn’t able to provide Australia-specific figures — 90% of the program’s graduates went on to land tech-focused roles, with the likes of Accenture and Deloitte, NAB, Westpac, and Tafe NSW among their employers.
According to the findings of recent research from Deloitte Access Economics, pandemic-induced border closures shut the door on 30% of the tech skilled temporary migrants expected to arrive in Australia through the 2019-20 financial year, compared to the year before.
As a result, the firm estimates that Australia will need to upskill an extra 200,000 tech workers over the next few years.
As Amazon works to scale its training initiatives, others are emerging, too. One year after launch, Adobe’s Skill Finder initiative has seen more than 75,000 course completions on various topics including cloud computing, data analysis, security and UX, among others.
Like Amazon’s re/Start initiative, Skill Finder — which pocketed a $2.7 million grant from the federal government to expand on its offering and reach — has also managed to secure the green light from local industry leaders. In part, because they played a role in its design.
Among its backers are Canva, which in September scored a $55 billion valuation, and Microsoft; along with leading software providers MYOB, IBM, and SAP.
Atlassian’s head of global policy and regulatory affairs, David Masters, and Accenture CEO Peter Burns, each said the program has helped to fill a gap stretched rapidly by the onset of the pandemic.
“Demand for innovation and technology skills are at an all-time high,” Burns said. “Accenture is proud to be involved in initiatives [like] Skill Finder which ensure all Australians have the ability to upskill in areas such as cloud, security, intelligent operations and automation.”
Jane Hume, minister for superannuation, financial services and the digital economy, lauded her government’s investment, too. She said that other programs like it are likely to play a crucial role in getting “around 60%” of the Australian workforce retrained to meet tech demand.