A digitally skilled workforce is the ONLY option

A digitally skilled workforce is the ONLY option
Australia’s workplaces are rapidly becoming more dependent on technology. But employers across the tech and non-tech sectors are struggling to find the right people with the right skills.


This week’s Budget saw the government make a big investment of $1 billion to encourage small businesses to go digital. It also backed a Digital Economy Strategy with an additional $130 million to make Australia a top ten data and digital economy by 2030. While these new government initiatives are crucial, they will only accelerate the demand for people with the right qualifications. The solution to the skills gap lies in a transformation of digital skills training in Australia.

The pandemic saw many of us working from home and, as a result, many employers had to move quickly to adopt digital solutions to facilitate this. In April 2020, online and digitally operationalised businesses experienced a 270% surge in demand for ‘technology experts’.

This unprecedented increase isn’t just confined to the technology sector. It’s predicted 90 per cent of all Australian workers will be using digital skills in their job within the next five years.

Australia’s workplaces are rapidly becoming more dependent on technology. But employers across the tech and non-tech sectors are struggling to find the right people with the right skills. The solution to the skills gap lies in a transformation of digital skills training in Australia.

The Digital Skills Organisation’s (DSO’s) recently released discussion paper – Towards a new model for the development of digital skills - highlights these issues. Australia is forecast to need an additional 60,000 digital workers per year, over the next five years. It doesn’t seem possible when there are only 7,000 students in Australia graduating with an IT degree in 2019, and fewer than 3,000 people completing a Cert IV in the ICT training package that same year. The skills gap is glaring and only getting bigger.

While these figures are concerning, they also present significant economic opportunities for businesses, students and employees alike. The economic contribution of the digital sector increased by 79 per cent since 2016, outpacing average growth in the economy by more than four times. The tech sector alone contributes $167 billion per annum to Australia’s GDP. So it makes sense for businesses to embrace this growing market, for students to choose an in-demand qualification and for employees to upskill to improve their career prospects.

So, why are we experiencing such a shortage of digitally skilled workers?  

In the context of a rapidly changing digital economy, the education and training sector doesn’t currently have the capacity to digitally upskill the workforce to meet the demand. There is also complexity in the sector which makes it difficult for learners to identify which skill sets they need to enter the workforce and to upskill. This also hinders employers, by not being able to prioritise the time and costs to engage with in digital skills training that will help their business prosper. This is crucial for small to medium enterprises where one in five (almost half a million) have no or low levels of digital adoption.

To solve this we must simplify digital training to reflect skills employers need making it more up-to-date, adaptable and flexible. The DSO’s Digital Skill Development Model will do this through bringing together three main elements; Digital Skills Pathways, Digital Skills Standards and Digital Centres of Excellence.

Digital Skills Pathways set out to provide a signposted journey that leads an individual or organisation to understand the skills needed for occupations. Importantly, these are shaped by industry demand and underpinned by a common language.

These pathways lead to Digital Skills Standards that describe the skills and the associated level of performance to undertake specific functions in the workplace. Standards allow learners to have something which they can be assessed against and give employers more confidence about the people they employ. New level of responsiveness and ongoing collaboration is built into the model to ensure that training remains technically current and responsive to employer demands. This is where organisations like the DSO will play a crucial role in facilitating and maintaining these links between industry and training providers.

The third and final piece of the puzzle is Digital Centres of Excellence working closely with the training organisations to co-design training with employers from the start.

To be a world leader in the technology sector and deliver thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity, Australia needs everyone to collaborate and agree on the solutions.

This is the time for action. Solutions are available, and DSO is leading the way to implement them but we need your help. What will your organisation’s commitment be to closing the skills gap? Join the digital skills revolution today to seize the opportunities of the future and not be left behind.

Patrick Kidd
CEO, Digital Skills Organisation

Have your say on the discussion paper and register your commitment at https://digitalskillsorg.com.au/research/

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