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Digital Skills Gap: How to Reskill Australia at Scale

Sassoon Grigorian spoke with workforce experts Patrick Kidd, CEO of Digital Skills Organisation, and William Sim, VP, Trailhead Academy, Salesforce to find out how to bring business, government and employees into the next digital wave.

The skills gap is poised to grow across all industries in Australia. As part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and other emerging technologies are changing the nature of jobs, and the skills needed, faster than ever before.

According to the World Economic Forum, the pace of technology adoption is expected to accelerate across the globe. With the uptake in cloud solutions, big data and e-commerce platforms, digital skills development will remain high priorities for business leaders.

Australia will need 156,000 more digital technology workers by 2025, representing one in four jobs created during that period, according to research from RMIT and Deloitte Access Economics.

To address the problem, organisations must invest more in enabling their workforce to reskill.

To measure the skills gap across diverse sectors and businesses, Salesforce partnered with YouGov in a report which revealed the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for digital skills in organisations, and governments need to do more to address the digital skills gap.

To keep apace with changes to the ways we work and learn, both governments and businesses have a role to play in reducing barriers to reskilling. But how do we get started so that no one is left behind by technological transformations? These matters were discussed during a Salesforce hosted webinar “Bridging the Digital Skills Gap in Asia Pacific” with experts Patrick Kidd, CEO of Digital Skills Organisation and William Sim, VP, Trailhead Academy, Salesforce.

Digital transformation: How to upskill at scale

Digital transformation is on an exponential growth curve, and critical success depends on building a skilled workforce to keep pace with the opportunity.

Develop adaptable training

Patrick Kidd begins by mapping the scale of the challenge for the Australian workforce. With 13 million people in the Australian workforce across 2.6 million businesses. That means 300,000 digital professionals are going to be needed over the next five years.

Kidd explains how the business landscape has evolved “It is important to factor in the complexity of the business landscape, particularly during the pandemic. We have seen how businesses operate and how we are all impacted by global supply chains.”

To respond to the shifting business landscape, training will need to adapt to ensure that workers can dynamically fill the gaps and respond to changing business environments.

“As businesses are changing, the training imperative is to develop well rounded professionals with a balance of the right skills,” says Kidd.

Skills for digital transformation

The most notable change that Kidd points out is that repeatable tasks are now able to be automated, which requires significant upskilling. During COVID-19 the fastest growing jobs were those with skills such as mathematics, technology and data analysis.

“We are now seeing skills around communication, complex problem thinking, solutions driven, and leadership are becoming increasingly important,” says Kidd.

In Australia, research shows that learners find more technical skills such as coding or data analysis are better learned through short courses or gained through microcredentials.

“Velocity of training becomes important, to build the right training courses with digital educators that are accessible at each stage of the workforce development,” says Kidd.

Investing in training

Training for the future is an evolving process and needs to be addressed at every stage of the value chain. 

The Salesforce-YouGov Australia report shows that large organisations recognise the importance of investing in upskilling their employees. While for small to medium businesses it is a different conversation to talk about the value of upskilling their teams.

Employers can play a key role in upskilling their employees, this can lead to better productivity as well as increasing employee satisfaction. This will require a shift in mindset to building and developing employees over the longer term. 

“The government has an important part to play, to lead by example in how they are investing in the digital upskilling of their workforce, this would replicate across the economy,” says Kidd.

Key elements for transformation

To address the digital skills gap in Australia new solutions must be prioritised to build momentum of skilled workers while business moves ahead at pace.

Start with students

The skills shortage in Australia would normally be complemented with skill sets from other countries. With border closures, we need to look at other solutions that can be scaled quickly.

William Sim who heads up the Trailhead Academy for Salesforce in APAC says “One of the ways we try to minimise the gap is to target students across the board, from new college and university students to mid-career switchers. This is an opportunity to work with governments to develop courses across the education sector, including technical colleges, universities and private training providers. So that students at every level are trained with the right skills, for the right roles.”

Building students’ knowledge base early sets them up with the right skills for the right roles. “Everyone benefits from this cross-sectional approach,” says Sim.

Match technical skills with holistic skills

To upskill volumes of students quickly, there is large scale planning around course design and skill matching. Sim explains that “We are working with universities to come up with the right package. We bundle various software skills with a mix of technologies to ensure full technical capability.”

In Australia, research shows that employees themselves identify web, app and software development, data science and coding as some of the most in demand skills in the economy.

From a business perspective, it is also important to match technical skills with holistic skills. “We want students to be taught design thinking skills, along with presentation skills and all-round business skills. Students are then easily placed into business ecosystems,” say Sim.

Equal access to training

One of the key values at Salesforce is equality. “If you want to learn technical skills, then it should be made available to you for free,” says Sim. “That’s why we designed our learning platform called Trailhead. It is free, it is gamified. All you need is an internet connection. That’s the foundation of our learning. Our intention is to offer these courses for free to university students. In order to minimise that gap of inequality.” says Sim.

By bringing together a balance of free training, technical courses, university and work experience this will help to speed up the upskilling in Australia.

What is the final imperative to build digital skills in Australia?

“Collaboration is the key. If we can align and collaborate, then we can then exert influence,” says Kidd. 

It’s clear that the scale of the challenge requires collaboration with education providers, government agencies and businesses to fill the gaps at different levels, which will help to get the balance of training resources right. And with collaboration comes the opportunity to share learnings across different sectors to develop innovative training solutions.

Digital training across all levels of education is important, and continued skills development over the career lifetime is crucial. 

“Placement is the most important part of the process. Matching skilled people with the right jobs. That is our first measure of success,” says Sim.

There is a clear sense of urgency to upskill enough students, employees and experts to meet the growing demand of business projects. In many ways it is a good problem to have, and puts Australia on the map to take advantage of the opportunities in technology across the globe.

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Sassoon Grigorian

As Vice President, Asia Pacific, Government Affairs at Salesforce, Sassoon is responsible for matters involving government affairs and public policy, and works with Salesforce's public sector customers. Sassoon has previously worked for Fortune 500 companies: Microsoft; eBay and PayPal. Sassoon has worked in the NSW State Government as an adviser to a former NSW Premier. He has served on numerous industry boards and associations including being co-founder of the Digital Policy Group, Australia's leading group on digital policy matters. He is also co-founder of Remitt, a fintech start-up. Follow Sassoon on Twitter @sassoon_g

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