Attracting Digital Skills to Regional Australia
There is a critical skills shortage in the Australian Information and Communication sector. Despite the thousands of jobs in the pipeline, there is a significant shortfall in qualified candidates to fulfil the positions.
Could remote working be the answer to bridge the gap and give challenged businesses the staff they need? Sunshine Coast based software company EyeOnIT believes it is.
Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, Basecamp, BlueJeans. Over the last decade, dozens of new tools have helped businesses create more flexibility in the workplace and keep employees connected to the office without actually going there. While the remote working revolution is creating greater flexibility for employees, it’s also helping businesses bridge the skill shortage gap.
In 2017, Australia's Digital Pulse annual report, prepared by Deloitte Access Economics for Australian Computer Society (ACS), predicted that in the five years to 2022 the ICT sector would create 81,000 new jobs, presenting a challenge for Australian policy makers with only 3,000 to 4,000 new graduates entering the sector each year.
Then in 2018, ACS’s report predicted that in the five years to 2023 there would be 100,000 new jobs, with still fewer than 5,000 ICT graduates. Addressing the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in January 2019, Telstra chief executive Andy Penn estimated a shortfall of 60,000 skilled workers within five years.
Telstra research has identified talent and skills shortages are two of the toughest challenges that businesses face globally. Expressing concern that talent supply is not keeping pace with demand, many of Telstra’s new recruits are from overseas due to Australia not having enough people with the required digital skills. Telstra has urgent need for digital skills and is competing in a fierce Australian job market for these skills.
In Australia, the high-skilled job growth over the past decade has been predominantly in larger cities. In contrast, lower-skilled job growth has been fastest in rural and regional areas. This emerging skills gap intensifies regional disparities in employment opportunities and income.
Such has been the case for Sunshine Coast based software company EyeOnIT, who have embraced remote working tools to tackle the skills shortage head on.
EyeOnIT develops sophisticated software products for use by health care service providers and telecommunications service providers in Australia and the USA. @EyeOnIT employees have a diverse range of skills, including: software development, product design, business analysis, ICT engineering and project management. The talent pool includes University graduates and expert specialists delivering EyeOnIT’s unique competencies.
The market for potential employees has been Australia wide, with several team members relocating to the Sunshine Coast. Like any business, attracting and retaining suitably qualified employees is important for EyeOnIT. As a start-up technology company located in regional Australia, finding talented people with specialist digital skills is an innovation challenge.
EyeOnIT’s approach to strategic innovation is somewhat conventional, with several strategies in place to compete for the skills it requires with remote work being one of them.
Remote working has enabled the company to retain key personnel that have relocated to Sydney and Melbourne. While these skills are no longer physically located in Maroochydore, rather than leave the business they’ve remained valuable and productive, leveraging technology to work remotely alongside the Maroochydore team. As the business continues to grow, including a new office in San Francisco, this remote collaboration is a vital part of standard business operations for the Maroochydore team.
EyeOnIT already uses a series of innovative tools to make remote collaboration possible, these include Aha! and Slack plus:
Jira, Confluence and Bitbucket - collaboration tools developed by Australian company Atlassian, enabling the team to create, organise and discuss how they get things done. From project kickoffs to budget discussions, and to everything in between;
Telstra IP Telephony - video telephony using in-room systems, desk phones or smart devices;
Microsoft OneDrive, Office365 and Teams - a unified communications platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and collaboration, and application integration.
EyeOnIT is also currently working on a new strategic innovation solution with the proposed introduction of an ‘always-on’ immersive collaboration tool, a persistent voice chat channel with voice recognition and surround sound for all team members, regardless of their location to participate. To enhance the potential benefits of this solution, integration of virtual reality and augmented reality has the potential to also provide additional opportunity for improved experiences for remote based team members.
In keeping with being a fun place to work, when team members are currently working on their assigned tasks, most choose to wear headphones and listen to music of their own choice. Interaction between team members is therefore typically with instant text messaging, even when people are only metres apart.
The concept of using immersive voice chat channels with voice recognition and surround sound, similar to online gaming, is reliant on headsets being worn and ability to integrate with each team member’s personal music source. With the use of voice recognition, saying another team member’s name mutes both party’s music and opens a convenient two-party voice chat. A group chat can be established by a simple voice invitation. With surround sound, a group chat can allow multiple conversations to be conducted if necessary, such as side comments between two parties without interrupting the main conversation, re-creating real-world sound experiences without all team members needing to be in close proximity. When focused on a task, a Do Not Disturb option can be selected.
By creating this immersive real surround-sound experience, all team members share a common collaboration platform, regardless of where they are, working from home, interstate, or in the USA.
With the addition of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, an immersive visual experience compliments the audio experience. Team members would have the ability to meet in virtual spaces, changing the current ways of working and further reduce the isolation often encountered by remote workers.
How will this help EyeOnIT attract digital skills?
Firstly, it minimises the absolute necessity for a potential employee residing in other regions or cities to relocate, by enabling their virtual membership of the Maroochydore team. Secondly, for employees who do reside on the Sunshine Coast, improved ability to work from home if desired.
For EyeOnIT, it means being a more attractive employer and more importantly, it enables competing globally for digital skills.