Panelists from left: Caitriona Staunton, Robert Wickham, Sally-Ann Williams, Jason Hosking and Tara Sinclair

A job and talent shortage; what's going on with that?

We’re entering hard times – at least that’s the belief of many of our university graduates as they see their sought after careers fraying at the edges by an upsurge of automation. That’s ‘automation’ – otherwise known as ‘job losses,’ right? But here’s the thing – some of our most innovative and promising new start-ups, especially in the tech sector, just can’t get the staff. So what’s going on?

A number of experts gathered yesterday as part of Sydney’s Vivid Ideas program to address that exact question. Hosted by Tara Sinclair, Chief Economist for the jobs search engine, Indeedthe panel discussion “Tapping Into Australia’s High Potential Workforce” included Professor Roy Green, Dean of UTS Business School, Caitriona Staunton, Head of Recruitment at Atlassian and Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community and Outreach Manager at Google – among others.

As described by Sinclair, there’s a “job and talent shortage at the same time.”

“Jobs and workers are changing in their own ways, so there are shortages from both perspectives,” said Sinclair.

The truth is – there’s a mismatch taking place and the problem is, it’s misunderstood. It’s not technology-driven job losses we should be afraid of – this is nothing new – it’s our readiness to respond to the change. Think about it this way; ‘robots’ aren’t taking over the world any more than machines did in the last century. As Sinclair commented, around twenty-five per cent of Australia’s population was employed in the farming industry in the early 1900s, compared to around two per cent now. Who knows exactly where these ‘would-be’ farmers went – but let’s suppose some found opportunity in an emerging telecommunications industry, for one example.

“Jobs and workers are changing in their own ways, so there are shortages from both perspectives.”

Sinclair said: “We need a prepared workforce and to be able to respond to changes quickly.” She says while creative destruction is taking place, it’s “also really exciting to watch the jobs coming next.”

So how do we get ourselves geared for this change?

Get educated

Professor Green said: “We need problem solving skills, adaptability and creativity rather than knowledge based skills.

“These are boundary crossing skills, important in all walks of life.”

But we’re all responsible – it’s not just a matter to be addressed by academic institutions according to Williams. She says there's a translation exercise from graduation to real job skills.

“The problem is, we still think in disciplinary silos.

“We need to change the conversation to what skills have been developed that translate. We shouldn’t silo people to disciplines.”

A willingness to learn, problem solving and intellectual curiosity is important to all roles, said Staunton.

Push a cultural shift

For this idea of ‘boundary crossing’ to be properly understood and embraced, we need to change our culture to one that encourages and facilitates this.

Jason Hosking, co-founder of Red Garage Ventures and Hivery says: “We need to be louder about our successes. We need to encourage clear role models.” 

Meanwhile Williams said we also need to change our ideas and expectations of a linear progression in our careers.

“We need to combine the attractiveness of Australia as a destination as one also for education and jobs opportunities."

Build brand Australia

If Australia is to not only nurture, but retain and attract the talent of the future, we need to work on our brand. Indicative of a widespread problem among businesses in up and coming industry sectors – the drivers of tomorrow’s economy – Staunton says tech provider Atlassian hasn’t had any choice but to look overseas for skills.

“We need to work on Australia's brand as a tech hub,” said Staunton.   

Williams added that people don’t know that Australia has a world class education system and that Wi-Fi and Google Maps were invented here, for example. She said: “Most of Australia doesn't know that tech is becoming incorporated into school education. We're actually ahead of the US on that score. People don't know and we need to be more vocal about it – more house proud.”

Robert Wickham, Regional VP, Innovation & Digital Transformation at Salesforce said: “We need to combine the attractiveness of Australia as a destination as one also for education and jobs opportunities. That might be the answer to businesses who bring in overseas graduates and graduates who can't find jobs.

How? Perhaps we should take some ideas from Tourism Australia’s most successful campaigns and translate that to jobs and business, says Williams. 

Dan Jacobs

Dan Jacobs is the Editor for ShortPress and an experienced business writer across a range of industry sectors.