Reskilling of digital workforce vital to economic growth

A new report highlights the importance of digital techonology and its workforce in driving the Australian economy forward.

The Digital Pulse 2020 report by ACS, the association for IT professionals in Australia, in association with Deloitte Access Economics, reveals that our economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is 6.5 per cent ($126 billion) larger in 2019 than it would have been without the productivity benefits of digital technology.

It also shows that the technology workforce continues to increase at a faster rate than other parts of the economy, with technology workers increasing in numbers by 6.8 per cent between 2018 and 2019; 1.5 times more than the growth in the number of professional occupations over the same period.

The technology workforce is expected to grow at an average of 3.1 per cent for the next five years and by 2027, it is expected that there will be more than one million technology workers in Australia. But, despite this, the report also found Australia’s international competitiveness to be on a decline, ranking only at an average of seven out of 16 countries in 2019 across 24 indicators.

The report noted that a primary factor for this lacklustre performance is due to other countries improving their performances at a greater rate. It also cited previous research which found that, on average, highly digitally engaged businesses earn 60 per cent more revenue per employee and grow 28 per cent faster than businesses with poor digital engagement.

This reported emphasised six key areas to improve the performance and competitiveness of Australia’s digital economy and workforce:

  • upskilling and reskilling
  • investment in digital capacity
  • research and development (R&D)
  • shaping the digital landscape through e-invoicing
  • encouraging technology start-ups through employee share schemes (ESS)
  • improving the measurement of the ICT sector’s contribution to the Australian economy.

“Australian exports are not very diverse, and across those export industries, don’t employ many people. Further, the sophistication of Australia’s broader human capital (comparatively speaking) is not very high. This is a risk to future standards of living,” ACS Chief Executive Officer Andrew Johnson said.

“What’s missing in the national conversation about reskilling Australia is incentivising the upskilling of the existing workforce. There is much investment in retraining displaced workers, and rightly so,” Johnson added. “Growth in GDP per capita however comes from lifting the productivity of our current workforce. Subsidies designed to encourage existing technology workers to upskill their capabilities and be able to immediately uplift the productivity of their current employers, needs to be part of the mix.”

Johnson said that governments will need to extend programs to enhance the digital infrastructure of Australian small businesses in order to safeguard current jobs and create new jobs in the next 12 months.

“Supporting digital infrastructure in this area of our economy will provide immediate productivity and efficiency dividends,” Johnson said.

“Doubling down on digital technologies will be the best way to reinvent business models and adapt to living with a suppressed COVID-19,” he added. “Reskilling in technology knowledge and skills may offer a wage premium of around $10,348 per year, thus the increased demand for technology workers represents a real opportunity for professionals from a range of other occupations to grow their incomes.”

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