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The sixth edition of Australia’s Digital Pulse by Deloitte Access Economics highlights the significant role IT plays in almost everything we do.
In this COVID era, digital tools have been instrumental in keeping the economy going, while restrictions on movement and contact are in place.
Increased reliance on digital, though, has also proven a test for some organisations.
Nearly half (46%) of Australia’s workforce was working from home in April – and existing system weaknesses and digital pain points have gone from being seen as relatively minor issues to major strategic flaws. To address these, businesses are increasingly focused on further investment in digital capabilities and infrastructure to enable future growth.
Behind this technology infrastructure is people and their talent. Australia had over three quarters of a million technology workers in 2019, with this workforce growing at a faster rate than other parts of the economy. The number of technology workers increased by 6.8% between 2018 and 2019 — 1.5 times the growth in the number of professional occupations over the same period.
Like other sectors, our technology workforce will also have been affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19. We estimate that the pandemic may have seen 35,000 fewer technology workers in the Australian economy at the peak employment loss; a result of reduced business migration and a temporary fall in demand for technology workers as a result of the broader economic downturn.
However, the technology workforce is still forecast to grow at 3.1% on average for the next five years – double the expected growth in the labour force in general. And at that pace, by 2027, there will be more than one million technology workers in Australia.
One of the biggest growth areas for ICT workers is expected to be those employed in ICT sales or ICT management and operations occupations (with 4.3% and 3.1% growth per year on average respectively). Starting from a larger base, technical and professional occupations may grow by 2.6% per year on average.
Chart: Historic and forecast technology employment, 2011-2025
Even with this forecast growth trajectory, Australia needs to do more to become a digital leader internationally. Based on 24 indicators covering workforce, business use, consumer uptake, government use and regulatory landscape, an assessment of international competitiveness shows Australia ranks 7th out of the 16 nations considered.
Where comparisons with previous years are possible, Australia has fallen in rank for more than half of the indicators in the past two years. This is not because Australia’s performance has declined, but is primarily a result of other countries improving more quickly than Australia.
Attaining the full benefits of digital technology will need policy designed to promote investment in digital technology by businesses and skills by employees.
For example, the Australian government has announced subsidies to encourage students to undertake courses in a number of disciplines — including in IT. These courses will help workers from other industries to reskill and move into entry-level digital occupations. However, subsidies should also be designed to encourage existing technology workers to upskill their capabilities. This will enable greater productivity benefits for businesses using technology.
David is a macro economist with extensive experience in applied economic and quantitative analysis of the Australian economy, along with considerable experience in labor market analysis. David is a regular commentator on macroeconomic trends, and prepares a weekly economic briefing newsletter.