The future is tech and women will be needed: How to get involved

There’s a major shift in skills underway across Australian business, and it’s time to jump on board.  

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) released its annual report at the National Press Club yesterday, revealing a massive gap in skills needed for our digital future. 

It found that the digital economy is set to grow from 5% to 7% of GDP by the year 2020, seeing a major shift in skills across the economy.

Relying on tertiary graduates will not be enough to make up for the demand. The information, communications and technology (ICT) sector must look to the existing workforce. In particular, it must encourage more women and mature-aged workers to pursue careers in ICT.

The shortfall is clear: Just 28% of the ICT workforce is female, compared with 43% across all professions, and just 11% are mature aged workers.

The good news is that while some reskilling or retraining may be necessary, there are plenty of options for getting into the sector for non-technical people. Indeed, the ACS report finds that six out of the top ten skills currently being sought by these employers are non-technical, covering areas such as customer service, sales and project management.

ACS says the LinkedIn data shows a rapid transformation of skills across the economy. Governments, employers and the education and training sector will need to respond collaboratively.

But in the meantime, there’s much women can do to try and take advantage of the shift. The ACS says the ICT sector will increasingly need entrepreneurship, creativity and business strategic skills – and all those working out of the sector will require an increasing level of digital competency.

So what can women who want to best position their careers for ICT actually do?  

We put the question to former ACS president Brenda Aynsley who said that the first step is to identify just what organisations are seeking, by talking to people in the industry and discovering what education, skills and experience they need.

“It’s about listening and taking on board that advice,” she said.

She also urged women to note that the ACS report found 53% of ICT jobs are in industries outside of the ICT industry. “That means there are now ample opportunities for women who have no previous background, education or experience in ICT to enter the tech workforce. 

“Innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, strategic planning, project management and relationship management are now key skills in demand and these are more everyday skills many workers of both genders possess."

From there, Aynsley said education providers need to ensure they’re providing the right mix of skills for the information economy. “It’s important they look at how course content is delivered – this includes looking at the pedagogy and options for more tailored and individualised delivery in an online world, not to mention having great mentors that can guide them and better promote the career opportunities that exist in the tech sector."

There’s great opportunity ahead, but it’s so far been slow to seriously tap the potential of women.

The ACS’s Australia’s Digital Pulse report also found there’s been no improvement in the proportion of women in the ICT workforce over the past year. Technical roles within the sector (like software programmers, support technicians and systems administrators) continue to be underrepresented by women and the sector still carries an average gender pay gap of 20%.

‘IT Job Parity’ was found to be a key issue facing the sector in Deloitte’s recent Technology, Media and Telecommunications Prediction 2016. It found a number of measures can help improve female representation such as encouraging more girls and women to study STEM related subjects across all education levels, depicting more female ICT role models, and addressing recruitment, retention, pay and promotion business practices. 

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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