Aussie graduates not job-ready in key areas of cybersecurity and AI

Australia’s education system has failed to deliver job-ready graduates across the most in-demand areas in the tech industry, including cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI), according to results from a new Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) survey.

The AIIA, Australia’s peak body for the local tech sector, released findings from its Fourth National Digital State of the Nation annual survey, which examined the view of multinational corporations, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), sole operators and the public sector.

The domestic tech sector appears to be continuing to experience severe skills shortages, with almost half of survey respondents (49 per cent) having admitted that further training was needed for graduates.

Further, skills shortages overtook labour costs – which were cited by only 17 per cent of respondents this year compared with 50 per cent in 2021 – as the major driver for hiring overseas labour.

More than half (52 per cent) of respondents pointed to cybersecurity as the most in-demand skill, followed by AI (50 per cent), up from 28 per cent in 2021, and big data/analytics (41 per cent).

On top of this, 64 per cent pointed to skills deficit as the one area requiring greater focus from governments (both federal and state).

It was also found that the highest proportion of respondents (41 per cent) in the survey’s record – 10 per cent more than last year – were concerned about the state of the Australian economy.

Following this, 26 per cent of examined companies reported that they were “unsure” about actively hiring new staff this year.

Further, 42 per cent of respondents called for safer and faster adoption and promotion of AI policies.

According to AIIA’s chief executive, Simon Bush, there was a growing need for increased collaboration between governments and industry to directly address the skills shortage, including the provision of digital traineeships and apprenticeships, micro-credential passports, the teaching of critical IT skills in primary education years, and additional support for mid-career transitions and women moving into tech.

“The importance of improving our education pathways and boosting VET and Higher Education retention rates can’t be downplayed,” Bush said.

“This needs to start with critical technology and ICT literacy being taught in preschools and beyond around the country, reverse-engineering industry needs in education settings, embedding work-integrated learning in education, diversifying our workforce and encouraging the community to rethink a career in tech.

“Our members have indicated that governments are increasingly understanding the significance of tech and innovation. But further investments in key areas such as cybersecurity, SME support, digital skills and job-readiness of graduates is needed.”

Earlier this month, the Federal Government released two papers in an effort to kick-start discussion around “appropriate safeguards” that can address concerns around critical technologies, like AI.

This included the Federal Government’s Safe and Responsible AI in Australia discussion paper, which compared the regulatory and governance landscape in Australia and overseas to help identify key gaps and strengthen the framework governing the responsible use of AI, and the National Science and Technology Council’s paper Rapid Response Report: Generative AI, which assessed the potential risks and opportunities of AI technologies, providing a scientific basis for discussions about the way forward.

The Government, as part of its recent Budget, allocated $41 million to the responsible development of AI through the National AI Centre and a new Responsible AI Adopt program for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).