What are key expectations of tech bodies ahead of the Budget 2023?

Although Australia’s technology workforce is still booming, with the industry hitting record employment numbers, headwinds are rapidly approaching.

According to Australia’s peak technology bodies, the industry must address the shrinking share of women across the ranks of tech sector, and should move to implement sustainable workforce growth programs to stem any losses from a potentially significant economic downturn.

According to the Australia Computer Society (ACS), the domestic technology workforce saw a net increase of 57,600 workers last year, representing a year-on-year growth of 6.6 per cent. This brings the total number of tech workers to 927,900, representing the largest domestic technology workforce in Australia’s history.

However, such growth will be challenged by changing economic conditions, with 2023 already seeing widespread job cuts across Australia’s tech industry.

“It remains to be seen whether the recent layoffs represent a recession in the tech sector or a minor correction following the strong growth during the Covid-19 pandemic,” ACS said.

According to its chief executive, Chris Vein, despite the positive recent growth of Australia’s tech sector, the shrinking share of women requires immediate redress.

“The shrinking share of women in the tech sector is a notable concern and shows much more needs to be done on this front to make sure the benefits of a boom in tech are felt equally by all Australians,” he said.

According to data, the share of women in the sector fell to 30 per cent in 2022. However, the tech workforce overall continued to outpace growth in the overall economy, peaking at 70 per cent above the broader workforce rate.

Vein also stressed that Australia needed to create programs to sustain workforce growth, irrespective of a potential oncoming recession.

“By doing so, we can ensure that Australia remains a leader in the digital economy and that Australians have access to the high-quality jobs of the future,” he said.

At the same time, continued investments in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum technology remained equally important for Australia to achieve its goal of becoming a leading digital economy by 2030, as detailed by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) in its pre-budget statement and priorities for the 2023-24 Federal Budget, released last month.

Tech bodies welcome migration system review

All major tech bodies have welcomed the Federal Labor Government’s Review of the Migration System, unveiled last month by the Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, Clare O’Neil, where she specifically addressed tech skills shortages.

Estimates from The Tech Council of Australia (TCA) have shown that more than 650,00 people will need to enter the domestic tech sector to reach the previously announced goal of having 1.2 million jobs by 2030. Around a quarter of those people will come from skilled migration.

At the same time, the AIIA said that the forecast for the tech sector, which is currently Australia’s third largest economic sector and adds $167 billion to the economy annually, would need a further 330,00 skilled workers by 2027.

Additionally, according to the AIIA’s 2022 member survey, around 35 per cent of members were looking to hire more staff from overseas.

On the other hand, Kate Pounder, chief executive of the TCA, said that although progress had been made on visa processing times, Australia still compared poorly to nations such as Israel or Canada, where processing times for tech workers were two to three times faster.

“This is a welcome move, and we look forward to working with the Government to ensure the design of this streamlined pathway positions Australia to be truly competitive in bringing in tech talent compared to other nations,” she said.

“It is these workers where there is a fierce global competition for talent, and where we need to be more competitive by creating a streamlined set of requirements that apply above a defined wage threshold.”

Pounder also praised the Government’s move to prioritise increasing responsiveness in the migration system. She pointed to the fact that companies were restricted to bringing in skilled migrants that were on outdated occupation lists that fail to include new or emerging jobs in tech, like product managers and UX designers.

The TCA also welcomed plans for improved pathways to permanent residency, which will include international students, lifting the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold and increased mobility for tech workers.

AIIA chief executive, Simon Bush, said additional measures required to meet this demand included the need to grow the pipeline from school into VET and tertiary tech courses and boost completion rates, to develop digital traineeships and apprenticeships, and to support the mid-career transition, micro-credential passports and women moving into tech.

“We see 23,000 international students complete IT qualifications annually in Australia, the changes to support these students to remain and work in Australia is very promising. There is strong demand and shortages in the IT sector and migration is one of the measures that will help to address these shortages,” he said.

ACS said it was “encouraged” by the Review’s recommendation to give Jobs and Skills Australia an elevated role as “the trusted source of information about Australia’s labour market”.

“Occupation skill lists are, as the review notes, especially troublesome for the fast-moving technology sector and we are pleased to see this part of the system getting overdue attention,” Vein said.

“We have already seen Jobs and Skills Australia take a proactive approach to working with industry and the broader technology sector which is very encouraging.”