By some measures, Australia is lagging when it comes to technologically capable workers. How should HR approach this problem?
Among tech luminaries there might be some debate about whether AI and other technologies will replace everyone’s job, but there is no argument about whether it will fundamentally change them. Just recently Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt said the issue wasn’t that AI would replace jobs, but that it would create more than can be filled.
So the global demand for technologically capable workers is real, intense and growing. The question is: should you be recruiting to fill the growing demand, or instead focus on an internal development strategy?
What is a technologically capable role?
When talking about recruiting for technology or AI capability, you often face the assumption that you’re referring to AI or technology based positions. In reality, the future will require every employee to have sufficient expertise with fairly sophisticated technology, regardless of the role.
“The biggest rise in demand we’re seeing is across every job, and an increasing digitisation of every employee’s role,” says Aaron McEwan, HR advisory leader at Gartner.
He provides an example from his own life, “I grew up in a really small country town called St George, in western Queensland. And I used to go home while on holiday from university and work with cotton harvesters and things like that.
“But I was out there a couple of months ago and now all the cotton harvesters are essentially driverless vehicles. The traditional roles even in an area like farming are increasingly having digital components. So an understanding of AI and broader digitalisation skills is becoming more important.”
So in this case the jobs in agriculture went away from drivers and to the team that runs and maintains driverless vehicles. And the farm owners themselves have to skill-up to understand and manage the harvesters on their properties. In other words, if you think your organisation is exempt from needing technologically capable workers, you’re wrong.
Recruitment has a supply problem
When it comes to recruiting to fill the need for certain skillsets, Australia in particular faces several challenges. Nowhere is that more apparent than for AI related roles.
Research from CEB, now Gartner, says that Australia’s current AI related talent pool stands at approximately 3,370. Canada has a population that’s a third larger than ours, but their talent pool more than doubles Australia’s at 7,060.
Outside of AI, there are some positive indicators, but not all across Australia. The Knowledge City Index attempts to quantify this kind of information, and it shows that outside of the top five cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth) there is a lack of capacity.
The World Economic Forum’s future of jobs profile of Australia also suggests recruiting for all roles will only get more difficult, although we’re better off than some countries.
Combine this possible dearth of local candidates with the difficulties imposed on Australian companies trying to hire from overseas brought about by this year’s visa changes, and you have to wonder what companies can do to effectively recruit for the future.
McEwan thinks that for most organisations, the cost of trying to do so will be prohibitive. “Unless they can afford premium prices to attract this skillset, they increasingly have to build that internally. However, many organisations are unwilling to do that,” he says.
He mentions there often seems to be an expectation that the government or universities will help them solve the problem, but that these institutions are too slow moving.
How to facilitate a “build” strategy
So if internal development is the answer, what does it actually look like?
Traditionally, when you think of learning and development, in-class learning or a learning management system that delivers courses and training programs comes to mind. One of the main advantages of these is that provision and attendance can be easily tracked. An employee attends a course, and a box is ticked.
But did the course enhance their value to your organisation? That’s more difficult to achieve.
“We have to look beyond traditional learning and development strategy,” says McEwan. “We’ve always known that learning on the job is one of the most powerful ways for people to build capability.”
The advantage of on-the-job training is it ensures a direct correlation between learning and organisational needs. McEwan outlines what he thinks of as the “perfect world” of training:
- Accelerated learning programs for hard skills (basic coding, analytics, etc)
- Time out of current role to shadow people in more tech capable positions
- Or, time out of current role to get engaged in a project that will allow the employee to accelerate their technological ability.
It seems obvious, but one of the reason’s why organisations are resistant to many forms of training and development is that it can make employees less productive in the short-term. But considering the pace of digitisation, perhaps that’s a trade off more companies should be willing to make.