Minding the talent gap: tech skills in the startup ecosystem
Australia is facing a shortage of tech expertise, with a lack of data science and product management knowledge holding back growth in the local startup ecosystem.
With a recent report by StartupAUS showing a ‘talent gap’ when it comes to tech skills, we put the issue to a panel moderated by UTS Innovation & Entrepreneurship’s Professor Margaret Maile Petty:
Annie Parker, Global Head Startups, Microsoft
Bridget Loudon, CEO & Co-founder, Expert360
Alex Lynch, Public Policy Manager, Google
Murray Hurps, Director of Entrepreneurship, UTS
Margaret Maile Petty (MMP): Annie, where do you see Australia in the context of the report, and what do you think we need to focus on to accelerate our growth?
Annie Parker: The first thing is, I don’t see Australia as being different to most other countries. It’s interesting that a lot of the skills listed in the report were very much on the tech side, and that’s the same the world over, because what you’re doing by building a startup, is doing something that no one has done before. What you’re trying to do is find someone who is awesome at breaking things down into small, testable, chunks and figuring out what the right answer is.
Typically, that kind of mind-set lives in an engineer. However, if we actually look at who also has these skills to build, test, learn and problem solve; it’s lawyers. They’re amazing at breaking things down into small problems. We need to get better at understanding where these skill sets lie in more traditional jobs that we would usually discount.
MMP: Bridget, Expert360 has tripled in size year-on-year. How did you do that, and how much of it is an X Factor on top of the technical skills?
Bridget Loudon: Our mission is to make working for yourself work. Some new stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that, for the first time in Australia, there are more non-permanent workers than permanent workers, so that’s an incredible tipping-point for our economy. We build software to connect companies and individuals for project-based work, and our premise is based around the changing nature of the workforce.
MMP: In terms of recruiting staff, do you find this gap of talent, locally, is a challenge?
Bridget Loudon: It’s super hard. Our business is talent constrained, mainly in our ability to hire engineers and UX managers. Everyone is struggling with this problem, in the US as well, but in Australia there is a very small pool of people.
MMP: It’s interesting to consider this duality of immigration and education, because it really captures the spectrum of the problem: migration is the short term and education is the long term. In terms of government policy, Alex, what are you seeing through your role with these challenges?
Alex Lynch: Since the skilled migration policies have changed, we’ve had difficulty in bringing in people that we need, with very specific skills. We’ve built a large engineering team in Australia, but what has happened as a result of these changes is that it’s difficult to continue to grow that team. The quality of computer science education across Australia is growing, but that isn’t our core problem. If we want to be a globally competitive technology ecosystem, we need to be able to access unique skills that don’t exist in Australia.
Annie Parker: In Israel, you see great access to talent: they teach computer science from primary school. Every Israeli company knows how to partner with the startup community. Here in Australia, the biggest issue is that most Australian businesses do not partner with early-stage tech companies. Corporate Australia should get their act together and start trialling these technologies that the startup community is bringing their way.
MMP: Murray, with your unique insights, as a veteran of the startup ecosystem looking at universities, what should we be doing to address these issues that sit across the corporate world and the ecosystem?
Murray Hurps: What makes people entrepreneurs is not the ability to be an entrepreneur, it’s finding the problem that they want to solve. These people are saving Australia. They’re creating the jobs and the investments. We need something to address the job losses that are coming up, something that will create prosperity, that will fuel the Australian economy into the future.
In terms of improving it, this is a good step: understanding where the opportunities are. I would love to have every parent read this report, and show it to their kids, and show them what their career path could look like.
MMP: Universities play an important role, but what can we do better? How can we collaborate more with industry?
Alex Lynch: The way that we do training, is going to change dramatically over the next few years. People need training that is flexible, and universities are at the crux of this. People require university-level training, so how universities change their training dynamic, how they can make it more flexible, is very important.
as an organization you know we're not
just competing on a national level we're
competing on a global on a global scale
on a global playing field and so it's
imperative for us that we have access to
absolutely a great global talent where
our major hire in the IT market here in
Australia just last year we hired more
than 200 people here in Australia and
finding the right people in the right
places is difficult companies at our
building right now with the skills that
we need them to have are all struggling
with the same problems the world over
lack of access to talent lack of access
to funding and more importantly lack of
access to customers there's are the
three things we can fix those three
things every startup globally will just
go thank you
we really need the startup industry to
be working side-by-side with
universities and other other
organizations in the ecosystem to make
sure that talents really coming through
I think in the immediate term we can
import some of that talent from overseas
but in the medium and long term there's
no way we can do it by just importing
Talent we've got to grow that talent
here and universities are obviously a
critical pathway for doing that we
really have to work together as an
ecosystem and that means industry that
means education and that means our
students and our startups and when we
understand that it's not a single
problem that one partner owns it's
something that sits across all that we
do we're making the right steps so how
do we connect our students to
opportunities where they learn about
entrepreneurship where do we bring in
our industry partners so that they can
see what they can learn from our
students and how we can help them we
working with the tertiary sector and
with the tiller and his team and many
other universities across the country
we're working with a vocational sector
are we working with our clients are we
working with government to ensure that
as we think about the transition in our
workforce and as we look at the ways in
which we can contribute to helping to
develop pathways to build build new
skills and there are no typical career
paths anymore so the more we can
understand about how a person is going
from one job to the next
the more we can learn and help other
people make that same transition we're
going to need more through life training
we're going to need training people who
have families people who have homes who
have commitments are going to need
training that is flexible and the
universities are at the crux of this a
lot of this training people are gonna
require is a university level training
and so how the universities change their
training dynamic have a training that is
more flexible for people's life stages
that is available in bite-sized chunks
that people can digest remotely and and
to have a shared understanding of future
the employers can they buy into is going
to be very very
You can download the full Startup Talent Gap Report here.