The Digital Skills Organisation (DSO) has launched a new initiative to engage Australia’s small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) on its journey to digitally upskilling Australia.
In partnership with Momentum Media Group, the DSO is hosting four online focus groups with employers from a range of sectors including financial services, manufacturing, information technology, law, real estate and more.
The Momentum Media-DSO Business Innovators Forum workshops kicked off on Thursday, 8 July with 10 employers across two sessions. Two more sessions will be held on Tuesday, 13 July.
DSO CEO Patrick Kidd presented the workshops and said they reflect the fact that the organisation has been deliberately set up by the federal government as an ideas hub, with employers at the heart of the DSO’s vision.
“What we are very much about is improving the system and the core element of that is linking employers, giving them a voice at different levels so that the system meets their needs,” he said.
“Gaining first-hand insight from business owners is incredibly valuable as we look to optimise our efforts to be of maximum value to those organisations who will be hiring digital workers.
“The Business Innovators Forum is a tremendous opportunity for us to hear directly from employers about the types of digital skills needed in their business and how they can help us on our journey to upskill Australia and get more people into jobs. We are really looking to develop long-term relationships with employers and use their experience and opinions to develop our model.”
Engineers get it
Mark Burgess, CEO of aerospace manufacturing group Quickstep, was one of the first attendees to outline how his company views digital skills.
“We really see it in two ways,” Mr Burgess said. “As a manufacturing business, digital is really about industry 4.0. In terms of both shop floor automation and physical processes being automated. The second dimension is the digital skills for the broader workforce and the automation of back-end business processes.
“We employ about 42 engineers, and they all get it. Digital is fundamental to everything that they do. But among the operations and administrative staff, digital skills are patchy,” he said.
The Business Innovators Forum introduced employers to the broad spectrum of digital skills requirements, from basic skills like operating a personal computer through to digital fluency and specialist pathways like data analytics and cyber security.
Sanan Thamo, founder and CEO of data analytics company INGRITY, noted that the significant demand for specialist digital skills is being driven by major Australian employers with multiple technology needs.
“There are three different types of technology that we deal with. One is ‘legacy’, the second is ‘new’ and the third we call ‘next new’. Our problem is to service our customers, for example the big banks, who have technology in all three areas. They therefore want us to have legacy skills, new technology skills and next new technology skills. As a service provider I need people with skills in all areas.”
One of the key takeaways from the first focus group was the need for employers and their workers to be convinced that the need for digital skills is significant enough for them to take action.
Mayflower Consulting CEO Sarah Penn revealed that some of her younger employees may deny they lack the appropriate level of digital skills for their position.
“One of my staff would be considered a digital native. She is all over social media. But when I look at her broader skill set in terms of producing PowerPoint presentations, finding files or using a login management system, I’m not sure she would see any shortcomings in those areas - even though there are. Her perception of her own digital skills is very different from mine as her employer. Therefore self-assessment may not be the most reliable way of measuring aptitude of digital skills,” she said.
“The biggest challenge I can see for all employers is getting everyone - from the board to the intern - to collectively agree that there is a problem big enough to warrant their attention. Once we can agree on the problem we can work together on a solution.”
Working with training providers
Sebastian Robertson, founder of drone company BIRDI, shared his experience trying to find digitally skilled workers via the vocational and educational training (VET) system.
“Private training providers are a completely different ball game,” Mr Robertson said. “They pride themselves on getting a job for their students because that is what matters to the people paying to go through a training program. Private providers have more accountability to the end outcome, rather than simply providing you with a certificate and that’s the end of it,” he said.
“Our experience has been that TAFE is great for large organisations but they really struggle to form partnerships with SMEs.”
Finding digital talent
Start-up financier and Stropro founder Abraham Robertson added that training providers should spend more time considering the digital skills needs of employers over a six to 24-month horizon to avoid running outdated programs.
“I wouldn't be able to tell you what code base we’ll be using in two years. What I do know is that in 12 months’ time there will be a massive shift from Australian start-ups and scale-ups using Dart and Flutter coming out of Google’s frameworks. We know that change is coming, but who is providing those courses? I don't think anyone is.
“If training providers spoke to businesses who are looking to employ, we would take six people straight away. The issue is that those micro-credentials are really hard to find. You look for businesses that have either already developed the digital languages you work with and start headhunting people, or you import digital talent from overseas.”
The DSO will continue to engage with employers over the coming weeks, using initiatives like the Business Innovators Forum to facilitate meaningful discussions with the Australian business community.
“On behalf of the DSO I would like to thank all those who attended the Business Innovators Forum workshops on Thursday, 8 July. I look forward to meeting more employers as this important project continues this week.”
The Momentum Media-DSO Business Innovators Forum will hold two more online sessions for Australian SMBs on Tuesday, 13 July.
The DSO is always looking for new insights from the business community. Any Australian business owners with between 20 and 200 staff interested in participating in future events are encouraged to fill out the form below.Back to Blog page