August 18, 2022

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Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder. Source: supplied. The talent shortage is the...

Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder. Source: supplied.

The talent shortage is the “single biggest challenge” facing the tech sector in Australia, and startups and small businesses have a role to play in addressing it.

That’s according to Kate Pounder, chief executive of the Tech Council of Australia, which has partnered with the Digital Skills organisation on a plan to tackle the skills gap in tech.

The Tech Council launched in August with the goal of seeing 1 million tech jobs in Australia by 2025.

That means a net increase of 286,000 workers over the next four years. It’s a huge opportunity, Pounder tells SmartCompany. But at the current rate, filling those roles will be tricky.

While the Tech Council’s board members include representatives from veritable tech giants such as Atlassian, Canva and Afterpay, there is also a role to play for up-and-coming startups and small tech companies.

Startups such as Go1 and Academy Xi, for example, are revolutionising the way people can access tech training, Pounder says. Recruitment software businesses such as Reejig are also helping businesses understand the skills gaps in their business and better manage their hiring processes.

These tools are some of “the greatest assets we have”, she adds.

“We’re not going to get a different result by doing everything that we’ve done in the past.”

The partnership between the Tech Council and the DSO will focus on four pillars: data-driven research to identify skills gaps and the needs of employers; a digital workforce strategy connecting training providers, government and industry; creating standards for education and skills training; and connecting educators with employers to create pathways to work.

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How can small businesses and startups attract the best talent?

Pounder acknowledges that hiring is one of the biggest pain points startups and small tech businesses are facing today.

Competition for tech talent is fierce and smaller businesses often don’t have the brand recognition to attract the best, or the resources to compete on salary.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t compete at all.

“The brightest talent love to work in a startup environment because they know they’re at the cutting edge,” Pounder says.

Startups can spruik their culture and work-life balance offerings, and offer employee share schemes and benefits in lieu of hefty pay packets.

As the threat of The Great Resignation looms, research from Atlassian has found 84% of employees want to continue with the flexible working arrangements they have enjoyed during the pandemic.

But only 20% said they have the autonomy to decide their own working arrangements.

“Those who leave that decision up to their employees have a headstart in recruiting job seekers,” Atlassian work futurist Dom Price said in a statement.

Only 68% of Aussies surveyed said there is ‘a high level of trust’ throughout their organisation. That’s down from 87% at the same time in 2020.

All of this provides an opportunity for those businesses seeking tech talent, who can offer the flexibility people are demanding.

Smaller businesses can also offer on-the-job training, hiring people who may not have tech skills but who are right for the role in other ways.

Anyone can learn to code, she notes, and there are plenty of reskilling tools out there to be drawn upon.

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“It is in part down to employers being open to drawing on those broader tools.”