Four of Australia’s tech workforce leaders have called for a greater focus on cultivating tech talent from inside organizations as well as outside the industry. They have also argued that making progress on diversity would have a positive impact on the IT industry’s future success.
Speaking on a panel at the SXSW Festival, ANZ Bank’s Head of Technology Workforce Carina Parisella and David Ranasinghe, chief digital officer at Revenue NSW, both said improving staff mobility and building a learning culture could improve talent retention and meet skills needs.
Meanwhile Molly Rowe, vice president of people at tech firm Recordpoint, detailed how graduate programs can support progress on diversity in tech, while head of recruiting at _nology Australia, Roisin O’Neill, said tech teams should look at talent planning for the next five to 10 years.
1. Design for talent retention as well as hiring the right people
As head of a 12,000-strong tech workforce at ANZ bank, Carina Parisella is very aware of the recent shift in talent priorities. The trend has been towards people having multiple careers and companies needing tech workers more than workers needing them, leading to attrition.
To connect with a new generation of workers more attuned to passion, purpose, having an impact and doing meaningful work, Parisella said companies need to look at designing for retention rather than just hiring, which she said is what “… will give companies the edge.”
Parisella said ANZ has seen success with focusing on the individual interests and goals of early career talent, leading to an 85% retention rate that was outperforming the tech industry. By getting priorities right early, staff were both staying longer and were higher performing.
Talent mobility and learning culture the key to talent retention
Tech leaders are measured on talent mobility at ANZ. The organization aimed to have a minimum of 200 tech workers — and up to 500 — taking up gig economy type roles internally with other teams, to improve mobility and team development, while reducing “talent hoarding.”
SEE: A complete blueprint for building and managing technology teams.
With AI set to automate about 20–30% of existing roles each year, Parisella said the shelf life of skills had decreased. She said that building a learning culture was now a critical factor to keep up with skills needs, or organizations would face attrition from their tech staff.
AI used wisely could support retention of more women in tech
AI could be a big opportunity to recruit and retain more women in tech to increase industry diversity, Parisella said, because it could automate some of the more repetitive tasks, such as basic coding, which in the past haven’t interested a large enough number of female candidates.
Women are likely to be attracted to tech roles if their soft skill or “power skills” strengths become more important to tech teams, including creativity, critical thinking and working with people.
2. Focus on training and reskilling employees and new hires
Revenue NSW Chief Digital Officer David Ranasinghe said his department’s operations and tech headcount increased through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the spike in work died down, there was a question of what the NSW government should do with that talent.
“We focused on the retraining and reskilling of our staff,” Ranasinghe said. “All the people with the most knowledge of our business and of our customers’ needs and a passion for technology — we have retrained them into roles in technology and other areas of the business.”
Having tech training and skills in-house has been a major shift in the way the NSW government manages tech talent, but Ranasinghe said it has been successful. Some workers have been retrained into AI and automation space, which will help if there is a deficit of skilled labour.
SEE: Want to develop your team? Here’s how to develop an IT team’s capabilities.
Ranasinghe said employees are also now granted three hours every Friday for training through third parties and online.
“There’s no point saying go and do education, but do it at the beginning or the end of the day,” said Ranasinghe. “We’ve given them time to incentivize people to invest in their career.”
Training and reskilling improving tech employee engagement
Revenue NSW previously had a 27% tech worker attrition rate and relied on contractors. It shifted to the “medium- to long-term game” of hiring selectively and targeting candidates such as graduates who wanted to grow through the ranks, while investing in training and retention.
Ranasinghe said it was trying multiple strategies to find new hires including cadetship programs and recruiters.
“We’ve had nurses, physios, engineers from Brazil; their contribution to the culture and how quickly they have picked things up has just amazed me,” he said.
With 1,750 engineers in his own and parallel departments, Ranasinghe said he also measures mobility across divisions and agencies to provide its team with different career experiences, from back-office to more customer-facing. Overall, engagement scores have increased 6%.
3. Commit to developing diversity in your technology team
Recordpoint Vice President of People Molly Rowe has helped to increase the diversity of the tech firm’s 50-strong engineering team. Now, 35% of its engineering staff are women, and 22 backgrounds and ethnicities are represented in the team, well above industry averages.
Rowe said the organization had been successful in driving female representation in particular through its graduate program.
“We had an incredible graduate program when I joined four years ago, but we made some tweaks and really used that to drive a lot of our diversity,” said Rowe.
Rowe said IT leaders would not always be successful with diversity because of market realities.
“We’re using a decent tech stack of Kubernetes, Terraform and Azure Cloud, and we can’t expect a senior engineer with eight years’ experience to also be female all the time,” said Rowe.
However she said that putting these initiatives in place was valuable to the industry in the long run.
“If we want to make good software that is representative of people and the people who use it, then it needs to be built by people who are representative of those people,” said Rowe.
Diversity initiatives require leadership and take time
Tech leaders across Australia should be aware that building more diverse teams takes time.
“We need to understand that organizational change is not a fast process and it is something you have to commit to in advance and have to be consistent with over time,” Rowe said. “Yes, you can go ahead and make immediate hires, and things will change. But there’s a lot of cultural pieces that need to change behind the scenes for diversity to be successful.”
Rowe said IT would need to work with other stakeholders.
“Everybody needs to be involved, including your hiring teams,” said Rowe. “But you do need to have a mandate from up high, and (you) need a leader who is willing to drive cultural change and is willing to be the stakeholder for it.”
4. Ride the recruitment market waves by thinking long-term
Tech recruitment expert Roisin O’Neill, head of niche recruitment firm _nology Australia, said companies are being more cautious around tech hiring in late 2023. O’Neill said the company is now thinking about what it wants its tech workforces to look like over the longer term.
SEE: Some Australian companies are looking at talent as a service to fill skills gaps.
“The last couple of years were really reactive and about growing at all costs because money was cheap, but that’s not the case now,” O’Neill said. “Companies are now thinking, ‘What do I want my workforce to look like in five to 10 years?’ as opposed to, ‘What do I need now at this very minute?’”
Tech hiring ” … has traditionally been a bit of a nightmare,” O’Neill said, and the waves of firing, hiring and recalibration throughout the COVID-19 pandemic volatility led to changes in what people care about, how companies hire, what the right talent looks like and what companies want.
However, companies are still hiring tech workers as exhibited by the low unemployment rate.
“We’re in a recalibration phase; it is not this huge trend of downsizing and layoffs,” O’Neill said. “It is not that tech jobs are not important any more, it’s just that companies have had to get more cautious about what their workforces look like, and again, it’s all about designing for the long term now.”
Companies to play role in growing Australia’s technology workforce
Organizations and their IT leaders will need to play a role in supporting Australia’s tech future long-term. Data from the Technology Council of Australia shows tech jobs are due to grow from 900,000 in 2023 to 1.2 million in seven years, with a potential shortfall of 200,000 jobs.
O’Neill said the most significant opportunity available for meeting the jobs target was for organizations to play a role in skilling up existing workers, whether that is those already in tech being retrained into more modern technology or people reskilling from nontech into tech roles.