Young Australians are ill-prepared for a digital economy: Infosys

A survey conducted by Infosys found that young Australians are among the least prepared around the world for the digital economy, ranking last in a global survey of nine countries.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

50 percent of young Australians believe that their education did not prepare them for what to expect from working life, according to a report from IT outsourcing company Infosys.

Infosys surveyed 9,000 people aged 16 to 25 from Australia, China, India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, South Africa, and Brazil to determine the employment, skills, and education concerns of those in the "millennial" age group.

In its report, Amplifying Human Potential: Education and Skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Infosys said that the shift towards more specialised and technology-led economies will increase demand for a highly tech-enabled and digitally skilled workforce -- a view shared by the majority of respondents.

"By familiarising students with technology at a young age, we take away their fear or timidity," Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka said.

"Undoubtedly, the next industrial revolution will amplify our humanity, but we must also bring a new context, to make it as adaptable, curious, collaborative, engaging, and powerful as our own minds."

Two-thirds of total respondents said that technology has helped democratise educational opportunities for them and feel that learning skills in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a critical aspect of the educational process.

58 percent of young Australians also expect those with computer science skills to be more likely to have a successful career.

Despite this view, young Australians were least confident of their technical abilities and job prospects in the innovation age, and whilst they are highly aware of the need to learn new skills, Australians are also the least interested in improving their STEM knowledge.

Less than a fifth wanted to develop data skills, build mobile apps, or learn how to code; even fewer -- just 3.41 percent -- had a desire to work for a startup over a large company.

The result puts Australians at the bottom of the heap compared with other young people surveyed, and according to Infosys ANZ vice president, the current government's focus on innovation has not come a moment too soon.

"Australia's STEM skills gap is too large and we need to start closing it," he said.

In December, the federal government pledged AU$51 million in a bid to help students in Australia embrace the digital age and prepare for the jobs of the future, along with AU$48 million to inspire STEM literacy, over five-years, as part of its AU$1.1 billion National Science and Innovation Agenda.

A focus on STEM has become a hot topic on both sides of Australian politics, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull focusing on the idea even before he came to power less than six months ago.

"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector,"Turnbull said previously.

"75 percent of the fastest-growing occupations require STEM skills, but only half of year 12 students are studying science; that's down from 94 percent 20 years ago. That is really a retrograde development, and we have to turn that around."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also previously highlighted the importance of STEM education in schools and universities in Australia, pledging a total of AU$2.5 billion for future jobs, with a focus on STEM, as well as a AU$17.8 million startup initiative he hopes will drive a new generation of innovators, risk-takers, and wealth-creators.

According to Nicky Ringland, co-founder of Australian startup Grok Learning, a solid STEM understanding is vital whether it comes to fighting climate change, making the next blockbuster movie, or unlocking the secrets of the universe.

"Australia is facing a massive skills shortage," she said in October. "There will be 100,000 new jobs created in the technology industry over the next decade, but fewer than half that number of students will graduate from technology degrees.

"The future of Australia will need to be agile, innovative, and creative, but if we can't source and support the local talent there's no way we can achieve this."

When it comes to gender imbalance in the IT sector, Infosys found that Australia had the largest gap, with 48 percent of men displaying IT competence compared with 28 percent of women.

According to the government, 55 percent of STEM graduates are female, but only one in four IT graduates and one in 10 engineering graduates are women.

It said women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions at universities and research institutions in the country and account for approximately one quarter of the overall STEM workforce.

"We want to be a national culture of innovation, of risk takers, because as we do that, we grow the whole ecosystem of innovation right across the economy. As we become more experienced, more innovative, more agile, and more prepared to take on risks we become a culture of ideas because it is the ideas boom which will secure our prosperity in the future," Turnbull said in December.

The government's innovation agenda also included AU$13 million to encourage women to take up roles in the STEM sectors.

Infosys also found that in Australia, the thought of having to compete for employment with both national and international peers is front of mind for 75 percent of young people.

Whilst over half of the Australian men surveyed believe their academic experience was beneficial, 43 percent of the country's young females said there was little relevance in their education for future careers. 49 percent of both young men and women in Australia believe their education did not prepare them for what to expect from working life -- a view shared by peers in the UK and the US.

Less than half of Australia's young people are optimistic about their future careers and 80 percent claim they had to learn new skills for their current job.

"Education generally is not equipping today's young people for the fast-paced, changeable nature of working life," Infosys said. "A commitment to train employees on the job is needed to fill this gap between education and new employment. This will be a key challenge in the years ahead."

Infosys said that despite many young people's view that their education could have equipped them more effectively for the workforce, the majority of respondents do not expect formal education alone will provide them with the necessary skills for a successful career. According to Infosys, gaining new skills and training is now viewed as a lifelong pursuit.

According to Australian recruitment and consultancy firm Robert Half, almost half of the nation's technology leaders will increase current staff levels over the next six months.

In its annual Australian Hiring Survey, Robert Half found that whilst technology professionals are in strong demand, finding qualified IT talent is not without challenges. More than 93 percent of the CTOs and CIOs surveys said they experience difficulties in finding skilled IT and technology professionals particularly in the fields of data/database management, software development, networking, and IT security roles.

According to Robert Half, the lack of technical niche experts and a demand that is greater than the supply are the primary reasons why businesses are struggling to find skilled IT and technology professionals.

"There are several opportunities for IT top professionals in today's job market and candidates with niche skills are finding themselves in demand," Robert Half APAC senior managing director David Jones said.

"More and more professionals are therefore looking for new challenges, and companies understand that they have to engage in the 'war for talent' to find and recruit top talent."

With AAP

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