Doorstop at Tech Council of Australia report launch at Australian Parliament House

Tech roundtable; Jobs and Skills Summit; skills shortage; VET and TAFE training; white paper on employment.

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: It's a real pleasure to join you with the Tech Council of Australia today launching their report highlighting yet again that we've got big skill shortages in the tech sector in this country, which certainly an Albanese Labor Government is determined to make headway on. We recognise the value of the tech sector in so many industries. This is not just a sector that is doing work on its own; it's enabling the improvement, sharpening up the operations of so many businesses across the country. It's why we committed to a goal of 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030 so that we can grow the number of people in this sector. There are more software engineers and designers than there are solicitors, plumber, hairdressers. This is how big the demand is for those type of skills, but we do need to grow more and to ensure that Australia's economy is not just strong now, but into the future as well, and this will be an important part of longer-term growth. 

I announced today that leading into the Jobs and Skills Summit that we would be holding a specific Tech Round Table to look at some of the things that have been raised by the Tech Council in its work with the digital employment forum that's set up to look at the ways in which we can bring people from various pathways in to grow the number of jobs in the sector, be it new people coming in, young people coming in, skilled migration has a role to play as well, but also seeing people move from other jobs that they're doing within the economy at the moment and taking up tech training and being able to perform those jobs as well. 

A very comprehensive report provided by the Tech Council of Australia today. I just want to acknowledge the CEO Kate Pounder and thank her and the team for what they're doing in championing the cause for the tech sector. 

As well as the investment in the human capital side, and as well as obviously having the Tech Round Table leading into the Jobs and Skills Summit, going beyond that, my colleague Brendan O'Connor and I have committed to work together to formalise and to be able to have some strong concrete plans to address skills shortages longer term. 

The other thing that we've committed to as an Albanese Labor Government is building a $15 billion co-investment fund, a National Reconstruction Fund, which will have a specific sub fund on critical technologies, making sure that the capital's there as well, changing procurement, reforming procurement, to provide tech firms in particular a chance to do work for Government — really important — a start-up clear initiative to create 2,000 new firms that are levering off technology, to solve problems and create new economic opportunity. So, we've got a very big agenda. 

The biggest thing, if I can end on this point, that will matter most is having people: this isn't just [about having a mechanistic focus, we need people with skills that can go into long term, high-paying secure jobs that are making a difference for the country. So, we're very grateful to the Tech Council commissioning this report, bringing it to Government and working with us, and it's something that's really vital. And I just want to invite for a few words, Kate Pounder. And I'm also joined here by a co founder of Afterpay and Block, Anthony Eisen. Thank you very much for your attendance today. But if I can, I would like to hand over to Kate Pounder.

KATE POUNDER, CEO, TECH COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: Thank you, Minister. And we were delighted to release our report today which sets out our sector's goal to create 1.2 million tech jobs in Australia by 2030 and to help as many Australians as possible get into those jobs. And that vision matters because they are amongst the best jobs in the country. They are amongst the best paid, the most secure, the most flexible. If you get into these jobs, you can have confidence in your life, for your income, for your family in Australia, building products that you've love. And we think that is a vision that every Australian is entitled to, and we want to play a part to create those jobs and help Australians to get into them. 

While we have confidence that we can create those 1.2 million jobs in Australia, we know we need to do more as an industry in partnership with our tertiary system, with our VET system and with Government to give more Australians that opportunity. And we think there are five actions we can take in the next 12 months. One is to increase awareness about these jobs. That is asking the industry to do better in that regard. The second is to make sure we have the right training products for Australians to give people a meaningful chance to get into the jobs. The third thing is we need to increase diversity. One in four people in the tech sector are female. We need to get more women into this. It will lift participation but also improve the gender pay gap. Fourthly, we do think there's a role for skilled migration particularly for high salary specialist roles that are some of the areas that are most acute in skill shortage now and which if we can fill some of those roles, it will help us bring in more people in entry level roles and through [indistinct]. 

Finally, we think that we need to work together with Government to not only have a clear plan to fill these roles, but to continue to work together to see whether the measures in place are work [indistinct]. We think this really matters because if we get this right, we can really change the future for a lot of Australians. You know, we will see 175,000 Australians come into these jobs from uni or TAFE. We'll see something like 360,000 people in Australia reskill and upskill for these jobs. That will give them new opportunities and new hope. So, we want to play our part in solving these challenges and we are grateful for the Minister for receiving the report and working with us ahead of the jobs summit to spur this plan into action. 

ANTHONY EISEN, BOARD DIRECTOR, TECH COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: The Tech Council of Australia's mission is to bring focus and commitment to the tech sector in Australia. It's one of the most important sectors of our economy and, as outlined today in the report, there is an enormous skills shortage and an enormous skills opportunity. It's been an absolute privilege to be a co founder of a company that's employed so many great Australians and seeing the value that they bring to the table on the global stage. There are so many companies that have been represented in today's forum that represent entrepreneurialism and opportunity to really make a mark for Australia around the world. But there are also huge local opportunities in every type of industry that technology touches. By bringing a focus to not only what the opportunity is, but the actions, to bring those opportunities to thousands and thousands of new employees and employees that want to reposition themselves in the workforce is what this report highlights and what the mission is all about. 

We thank the Minister for his commitment to the sector but also the recognition that what's available is not just jobs in the economy, but an opportunity to really expand our industry. The great benefit of technology and its role within companies in Australia is that it creates global opportunity; it's a forum for our skills in Australia to also expand around the world, and by bringing more focus and light to a sector with all parts of Government and the community really committed to seeing its development come to fruition will allow that opportunity to come to light. Thank you. 

PATRICK KIDD, CEO, DIGITAL SKILLS ORGANISATION: I'm Patrick Kidd; I'm the CEO of the Digital Skills Organisation. We are immensely proud to be partnered with the Technology Council of Australia and the Digital Employees Forum to address what effectively is a strategic challenge for Australia — which is how do we upskill our nation to not only deal with the 1.2 million people that need to get into tech, but also to digitally upskill the whole of our nation to that they can play their part in reaching our potential. The challenge is immense. We have an education system which currently trains some 10,000 people a year and we need this for 60,000 people a year. We have to find new, different and innovative ways to open up pathways so that as many people as possible can be exposed to these essential skills that they need through life, but also to secure the types of work that they're capable of. So, this is a significant challenge that we all need to get our hands around if we can move forward. 

I think what this partnership, this collaboration shows is that where industry can work with Government and we can bring things together around simple ideas, simple problems that we can focus on, there's a real opportunity to drive the nation. So, for us, this is a huge opportunity, I think, to push this all forwards with the right scale and the right momentum. 

ED HUSIC: We might open it up for any questions if anyone has any. 

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] R&D spending has fallen by about a third in last decade and fallen by half as a portion of GDP since the 1980s. Under the Albanese Government are we going to see an end to this trend? 

ED HUSIC: It is — well, one, I think it is important that we recognise that the contribution that is made to invest in research in this country as a proportion of GDP, I think it roughly stands at about 1.79 per cent — it's way lower than the OECD average. But we do need to look at how we address that. I've already started discussions with the Chief Scientist about some initiatives that will be undertaken, which we'll announce in the coming months, to try to do that. This is not just a target to meet on its own. It's really applying the smarts of Australians across government, business, academia, joining this all up for practical application. I also recognise there's a huge challenge. It's not just about getting that figure up; there is that broader challenge of commercialisation, so being able to translate good ideas that have come up largely in the tertiary sector, being able to apply those in a meaningful, concrete way in an industry to grow the local economy. 

So, we are, as I said, in the process, and we'll be making an announcement in due course, but there are other things that we do need to do, and notably in this space, and what's brought us here today, as much as we might have the ideas to commercialise, there'll be a point at which industry then needs to take steps. And the concern that I've got is that if we don't have enough people in the tech sector, we are holding back, really, our potential, economically and in employment terms. And I think we've got a greater ambition for the country. We see that tech can play a big role across industries, sharpening the way they perform, and to also, longer term, I think, ensure that we don't lag other nations. It's why I've been really focused, for example, on championing the case of about what we can do in AI, robotics but also quantum, not losing our edge with some of these critical technologies, making sure that we've got the capital investment in place, because I do really genuinely think longer term there'll be two types of economies — there'll be makers and there'll be takers. And we cannot just be a passive importer of technology. Manufacturing self sufficiency in this country is at the lowest within the OECD. Manufacturers do require a lot of innovation. They need a lot of talent and I just think we for too long have been shrugging our shoulders and accepting the current situation rather than fighting for better and I think that we do need to do that and getting an improvement in investment and research will be one pillar in that broader game plan. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask one of the figures that Kate's report talked about was the flatlining of VET inclusion?

ED HUSIC: Yeah, I was concerned about that. 

JOURNALIST: So, what do you make of that? It can't just be awareness. I mean, it seems a bit unusual. If it's such a no brainer to join the tech sector, why has that complete [indistinct]? And one other thing, if you could just give a little more detail on that round table. 

ED HUSIC: Sure, firstly on the issue — I did note that in the report today, and there is a lot of — I see it as an opportunity for the TAFE sector, for vocational training to play a big part. The good thing that I might add is that when I do talk with firms in the sector, they do recognise the enormous value that TAFE can play; there's a willingness to engage. But I have to say that that did stand out for me, and it is one of those things that we will need to address. Interestingly, you've seen people take training pathways. I referred to one person today who moved from the hospitality sector and gone over and basically trained themselves up through online pathways, but they're not necessarily captured in those type of things and so there's an issue, too, about whether or not recognition of prior learning and how that translates in those stats will be important. 

These are the type of things we do want to tease out in part of the Tech Round Table that I want to convene leading into the Jobs and Skills Summit. That will be held in a few weeks' time. I'll be bringing together peak bodies like the Tech Council of Australia, like the Australian Computer Society, that's done also some very good work through its latest Digital Pulse report that was released, plus the Australian Information Industry Association, plus other firms, bringing them together to start sketching out what they believe will be the important things to come out of the Jobs and Skills Summit and the longer term plans that we need to embark on to address this. I don't see that the Jobs and Skills Summit of itself will be the be all and end all to this. It will feed some work into the white paper on employment that we've flagged, but from my point of view I'm determined having started the conversation with the Skills Minister Brendan O'Connor, I have said we need to have a dedicated game plan to address skills shortages in tech — meaningful, concrete and see some change. 

We have already — and this is the good thing about the work that the Tech Council and others have done — we know the pathways. Getting more people to consider tech as a career option and to come into the workforce, one; two, to have people transfer within industries and take up tech roles as we've seen; and, three, skilled migration has to happen and we do need to open that door way. The fourth in looking at the Tech Council's report today, is seeing how we can hold on. There'll be people that are ready to leave the workforce. They've served the nation very well in employment, but how we can hold on to their skills longer and apply them in a mentoring sense and change the way they work. It might go from a full time to a part time role. These are the type of things I'd like to explore in the Tech Round Table that we do leading into the summit and see how we feed them into strands of work for a longer-term game plan to attack tech skills shortages and improve the availability of skills in the broader economy. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Anthony a question? 

ANTHONY EISEN: Yes, absolutely. 

JOURNALIST: This long term goal of 1.2 million is very worthy. It seems a fair way off in the future. What do you want to see right now in terms of skills? What's the low hanging fruit that Government can do? And, also, Australia's international lockout of the last couple of years, how difficult has that made it to bring those highly skilled, highly paid workers into the country? 

ANTHONY EISEN: Yeah, I mean, the best part about the Australian tech sector is that actually there's a lot of talent here. There's not enough of it, but it is very talented. What we lack is actually the experience which comes with some of the more developed parts of the technology sector that you see overseas. So, it's not about moving huge amounts of people from overseas to Australia, even though there's great demand for that, because as a country there's so much attractiveness in wanting to live and be in Australia and the beauty of technology is that it is actually borderless in a lot of ways. So, the ability for Australia to be a tech hub for certain companies that are global actually does exist, where it doesn't in probably some other industries. Low hanging fruit is really just to allow some experience to teach our talent in Australia how to perform on a global stage. There are a lot of companies, like we've seen here today, which have very good entrepreneurs but also have great Australian based workforces which are attempting to grow globally. The low hanging fruit is just how do you suck them into that with the right amount of experience so what is very good talent in Australia can develop their skills further. So that's one thing. 

The other thing is actually just bringing focus and a limelight to what is available. As a country I think we've still got a long way to go in illustrating what are the opportunities for talent in Australia to find really good suitable tech jobs which can take their career forward. There's a lot of mechanistic elements that go into that from people finishing school, to having work experience, to then go to university, or actually not go to university, because there are a lot of tech jobs which don't require university education. So, illustrating that pathway is something that we've got to get better at, and I see that also as being low hanging fruit [indistinct]. 

JOURNALIST: So, is Australia more attractive or less attractive? 

ANTHONY EISEN: Definitely more attractive, as a place to live with the opportunities to not just have great talent to reside here, but for it to be a platform which is a hub for many companies which can now execute remotely and perform remotely in lots of parts of the world. It's a great place, so I see there being lots of opportunity.