Report Finds Tech Jobs Boom Presents Challenge to Economic Recovery

The 2021 edition of the ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse report has been released, tracking the key trends in the nation’s technology workforce and its potential growth over the next five years.

Key findings in this year’s report include:

  • Despite COVID, Australia’s technology workforce numbers jumped 33,400 to 805,525, a 4.3% increase led by those sectors experiencing rapid digitisation including finance, utilities, construction and retail.
  • Over the next five years, the technology workforce is forecast to exceed 1.1M Australians, more than four times faster than the broader labour force numbers.
  • Young Australians are recognising the value of digital skills with IT being the fastest growing field of education for domestic enrolments, with over 41,000 in 2019.
  • Nevertheless, current trends indicate an impending gap between the need for extra 60,000 technology workers each year and just 7,000 domestic IT degree graduates. Boosting reskilling and restarting migration will be essential to meet Australia’s ICT needs.
  • The Australian ICT sector’s gender imbalance threatens to hold the economy back, as achieving parity in the industry would boost employment by 5,000 new workers a year in the first 20 years.
  • The top software programming skills demanded by employers include SQL (requested in 14% of job postings), Java (10%) and DevOps (9%).

The report, available at the ACS website, found Australia’s IT sector is one of the nation’s major drivers for jobs growth, with the industry’s workforce growing 5.4% on average per year to a total of 1.1 million workers by 2026, more than four times the expected growth rate of the broader labour force.

Coming after this month’s release of the Federal Government’s Digital Economy Strategy and the Federal Budget, the report highlights the importance of the technology sector to Australia’s continued economic growth.

Australia’s healthcare and education sectors had the largest growth in both overall employment and in technology occupations in 2020, together creating over 3000 technology roles. These industries experienced higher demand, yet also faced risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus in the course of their work, necessitating a shift to online modes of working where possible.

The same is not true of all sectors. The Australian mining and agriculture industries experienced growth in overall industry employment, yet the number of technology workers dropped by 200 and 400 workers respectively compared to the previous year. This drop in technology workers during the crisis may represent a lost opportunity for these industries and goes against the widely-accepted narrative the pandemic is accelerating digital transformation across the economy.

Dr Ian Oppermann, ACS President, said: “The projections in this year’s Digital Pulse illustrate the importance of the ICT sector, with technology becoming increasingly important to business, government and society. This was clearly shown during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“As emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and smart cities become commonplace, the demand for suitably skilled workers will continue to grow. We must start working today to meet the digital skill needs of tomorrow.”

Deloitte Access Economics Partner John O’Mahony added: “Digital technology saved Australia from the worst consequences of the COVID-19 recession and promises to be a major opportunity to strengthen the economy and create jobs as we move into the recovery phase.

However, the ICT sector’s growth will provide challenges to the economy. The report identifies a looming gap between the 60,000 technology workers a year needed and the if recent current domestic completions of IT degrees. The future of technology workforce will substantially rely on reskilling from other industries. Meanwhile, the lack of female representation could cost the economy $11bn over the next two decades unless we accelerate towards gender parity.

This year’s Digital Pulse identifies five areas where Australia could address its ICT weaknesses:

  • Promote ICT education
  • Deepen digital skills across industries
  • Boost female participation in ICT
  • Re-energise digital transformation programs
  • Identify IT contractors’ capabilities

ACS Chief Executive Officer, Rupert Grayston, added: “The 2021 Digital Pulse Report lays out a comprehensive picture of Australia’s ICT industry and the opportunities we have over the next five years.

“In key growth areas, such as Artificial Intelligence, it’s estimated that Australia will require an AI specialist workforce of between 32,000 and 161,000. If the Government wants to meet its new target of under 5% unemployment, reskilling and upskilling the workforce for technology roles is a vital part of the solution.”

“We hope all sectors of industry, education and government will find this year’s report a vital roadmap for building Australia’s post-COVID economy.

“I would like to thank Deloitte Access Economics for their valuable and important work in once again compiling this important annual report.”