Australia is somewhat unusual (although not unique) in the sense that its capital city is not one of its major metropolitan centres.
Thanks to the denizens of Sydney and Melbourne reaching an impasse over which of the two cities should become the nation’s capital, we ended up with the compromise of building a new city hundreds of kilometres away from both, thus inconveniencing everyone. And lo, Canberra was born!
For years, Canberra, along with other regional areas of the country, has struggled to attract talent to fill important roles. The IT industry is no different in this regard.
A key issue for the IT sector is that Canberra is a relatively small market for them, but because the vast majority of the available contracts there are for the government, security clearances are often required, which can be time consuming and costly to IT service providers.
Because the talent pool is so small in Canberra, finding IT staff with the skills required for certain roles can be extremely difficult.
There is also a chronic shortage of women working in the IT industry, not just in Canberra but across the country. Associations such as Women in Technology (WIT) have tried to encourage greater participation in the sector by women by providing mentoring support, professional development workshops, coaching and networking events specifically for women, but a lot of work remains to be done, as while women make up 47% of the total Australian workforce, in the IT sector, that figure is only 28%..
Furthermore, the dynamic and rapidly evolving nature of the tech industry also presents a problem when it comes to finding suitably qualified employees. As the industry changes so rapidly, schools cannot change the curriculum fast enough and university courses can also become outdated very quickly as technological advances are made.
So what can be done?
One solution to the shortage of trained IT staff is to invest in creating new ones. By bringing people from other industries into tech, the skills gap can be breached. Indeed, at Veritec, we are doing just that. In Canberra, we hire people from the public service and reskill them in the latest Microsoft technologies so that they can manage their own careers and forge a successful path for themselves in IT.
The older generation is also a rich resource that is currently being under-utilised. There are a variety of online training resources available to older workers who want to reskill in IT. It is imperative that the IT sector does its utmost to promote these learning resources to increase the flow of available talent, particularly in smaller communities such as Canberra.
The Canberra Institute of Technology, which is backed by industry and government funds, is an excellent resource, training around 20,000 people a year in and around the ACT, but the more IT vendors that participate in providing training, the better shape the industry will be in.
We would like to see more organisations that currently do business in Canberra invest in IT skills training, such as graduate programs, and also work with the government to simplify the security clearance process for public sector contracts.
Canberra could also examine other capital cities around the world that are located outside of the country’s main business centres for inspiration of how to boost the pool of talent available to the IT sector.
For example, in Washington DC, there is a government program called Connect DC which provides IT skills certification for people interested in a career in IT, as well as Microsoft Office courses for those seeking administrative positions, and basic digital literacy skills for all citizens to help them find work in a range of sectors. All of these services are provided free of charge.
Similarly, in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, plans are in place to create a FutureSkills Lab, with part of its remit to prepare the local workforce for advances in IT automation and the loss of some traditional jobs that will ensue by retraining them in competencies that will be required in this new technological age.
These are the types of initiatives that could bring welcome and lasting benefits to Canberrans and the local tech community.
Lastly, we all need to do a better job of selling Canberra as an attractive place to live. What was once a fairly sleepy place is now an altogether more vibrant location, with far more dining and entertainment options available than in years gone by. The wide open spaces, lower cost of housing compared to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, and easy access to nature, combine to create an appealing destination for families, and should be promoted by would-be employers, not just in the technology sector but across all industries.
Keiran Mott is CEO of Veritec.