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The Australian workforce was already facing a looming digital skills crisis, and the pandemic has kicked it into overdrive, research by RMIT Online and Deloitte Access Economics has found. 

The good news is SMEs who act now to upskill and train their employees stand to reap broad benefits down the track. 

Australia’s increasing digital skills gap

Australia will need 156,00 more technology workers by 2025, according to RMIT Online’s recent report Ready, set, upskill: Effective training for the jobs of tomorrow

Unfortunately, Australian employers are already struggling to find workers with the necessary digital skills to meet their needs, and this trend is set to accelerate during recovery from COVID-19.

“We’ve known for some time that we were approaching a skills mismatch, with increasing shortages of digital skills across the workforce,” says Helen Souness, CEO of RMIT Online. “COVID-19 has accelerated and exacerbated this, and it has significantly impacted businesses of all sizes in radical ways.

To find out more about jobs of the future and Australia’s economic recovery, visit here to download RMIT Online’s full report.

“Everyone has been forced to adapt and make changes to the way we work – whether it’s pivoting strategies for an online environment, embracing social media or e-commerce trends to remain competitive, or enabling teams to efficiently deliver projects through remote environments.”

The report found 31% of surveyed respondents experienced changes to their role requirements during the pandemic, and 87% of all jobs in Australia now require digital literacy skills. 

On the other hand, 25% of surveyed Australians said they don’t have the data analysis skills to meet their employer’s needs, while more than half have little to no understanding of coding, blockchain, AI and data visualisation.

Aussie workers want to learn

“COVID-19 was an unexpected and devastating blow for many businesses, but it has also presented an opportunity to rethink the future, to invest in training and upskilling, and to create new positions which leverage digital skills to better service customer demand,” Souness says. 

“For example, during COVID-19, RMIT Online saw a number of small and medium-sized businesses invest in staff by enrolling teams in our 6-week Future Skills programs, to upskill in areas like Digital Marketing, Agile Delivery and Cybersecurity.”

There are some major bonus perks to this approach. For one thing, if Australia can address the digital skills gap “it will turbocharge the economy” Souness says, helping “information and communication technology businesses alone grow by $10 billion by 2025.” 

Your employer brand also stands to benefit, due to the value Aussie workers place on training and skills. Indeed, in the RMIT Online report, over 20% of survey respondents said they would rather have $1000 to spend on training every year than $50 more pay each week (which adds up to an extra $2600 a year). 

Meanwhile, 52% said a “learning culture” is more important to them than a “fun culture” at work. 

“The data shows that employees themselves are enthusiastic about training for the future, and this is good news for businesses,” says John O’Mahony, Partner at Deloitte Access Economics. 

“It means that instead of having to compete for difficult-to-find skills in an environment of constrained international mobility, they can upskill and transform to power the post-COVID recovery.”

Almost half of current training not up-to-date or relevant

The average full-time working Australian spends over 150 hours on learning each year, but not everyone finds the training useful, the report found. In fact, nearly half (47%) said their training didn’t teach them anything new, or wasn’t relevant to their job. 

This suggests the average Aussie worker is wasting over 70 hours a year, or 10 working days – and is something for SMEs to bear in mind, especially in relation to digital and technology skills, which change and evolve so quickly. 

It’s also, Souness says, a much-needed wake-up call that we mustn’t become complacent in how we work and learn. 

“If we are to stay competitive with our global counterparts, we must reconsider how we approach learning new skills and embracing technological change,” she says.

“Employers must prioritise training and upskilling to transform, survive and thrive in the post-COVID world, and we must all shift our perspective so that relevant, up-to-date training is a core business activity, not just a nice-to-have.”

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