Skills convergence to soften talent crisis impact

This is a guest post by Pete Wilson, general manager at Apptio Asia-Pacific.

Although the nation has reopened to internationals and skilled migration slowly resumes, the talent shortage is hurting Australia – our employees, our businesses, and our economy.

Roles in demand are currently close to double that of last year. Nurses, software programmers, and aged and disabled carers are atop the staggering list of 286 occupations facing a skills shortage, as found in the National Skills Commission’s 2022 Skills Priority List. ICT business analysts, electricians and civil engineers aren’t far behind.

How the next few months play out will therefore shape Australia’s economic recovery. In the face of broad ranging economic headwinds, incoming government initiatives – including changes to visa requirements – will provide short-term relief.

But while it’s crucial that we shore up the workforce with new people, we can’t neglect skills development for existing workers.

Importantly, upskilling and reskilling programs must be aligned to skills convergence – the blending of competencies once unique to certain roles to ensure employees are equipped for their evolving professions.

Roles are evolving if not fundamentally changing, and the abilities needed to perform them are often very different to what they were just a few years ago, and what they will be in years to come.

Refocusing on upskilling

The hype surrounding upskilling and reskilling slipped for many when adjusting to the pandemic. It’s understandable; it’s impossible to jump every hurdle at once, so businesses naturally prioritised work-from-home strategies, Covid-19 policies, and adjusting operating models. While border closures were in our periphery during this time, the true extent of the impact on the economy is now in the spotlight.

But we are now at a critical stage where the investment made into diversifying skills of workers will determine how quickly and how well we come out the other side, whenever that might be.

Although a A$3.7bn skills funding agreement and 180,000 new TAFE places are in the works, and 160,000 skilled overseas worker placements are allocated in the 2022-23 Migration Program, Australian businesses have a massive role to play.

Just as technology has converged with every part of a company, so have the skills historically confined to technologists converged with professional services, business operations and finance.

Lawyers, accountants, consultants, healthcare practitioners, and many others increasingly rely on technology skills as much as they do the fundamental skills needed for their professions.

With ‘digital’ now engrained in business, workers aren’t just using technology – email, video conferencing, and collaboration apps – but creating it. They’re developing online tools, workflows, and processes using the myriad software out there that doesn’t require any coding.

For example, lawyers and paralegals – whether at firms or in-house – are being trained to develop and maintain triage systems where clients can enter requests to speed up resolutions. Healthcare practitioners are creating intake and monitoring tools to optimise care before, during, and after a patient visits a hospital or clinic. Builders are designing construction management tools to run projects and coordinate hundreds of subcontractors.

At management level, the convergence of finance, business management, and technology gives greater context to decision-making, budgeting, and return on investment over assets, including the hundreds of different technologies companies need daily.

Employees once confined exclusively to one of these functions have seen their roles evolve to encompass all three under the burgeoning banner of finance operations – a role that creates greater value for their businesses, and the skills needed to do so have converged.

This concept has become incredibly familiar to companies in the US, but in nascent Down Under, there’s been traction among banks, insurers, consultancies, and government agencies, with utilities, manufacturing, and services companies beginning to see returns in productivity and costs as skills convergence matures across their staff. And it’s quickly becoming an imperative with pressure to cut unnecessary spend amid current macroeconomic conditions.

Modernised skillsets for the future workforce

Don’t get it confused – this isn’t about amalgamation.

Companies that view the opportunities of skills convergence as an excuse to cut jobs while overloading the employees they want to keep around will suffer as they directly impact their ability to grow sustainably, while seeing their best talent jump to competitors after burning out.

This is about empowerment. It’s about ensuring workers are given every chance to build out their Swiss army knife of skills while retaining a suitable work-life balance.

It boosts the value employees stand to bring to business, and subsequently improves job satisfaction, making them more likely to stick around as the battle for talent rages across industries.

It’s also about creating jobs, while modernising fringe or traditional roles so no workers are left behind while the company advances. Because it’s not a deep finance nor deep tech role, it opens the door for professionals to enter finance and technology domains where they previously couldn’t.

Additionally, it builds trust among colleagues and departments, fostering greater resilience for organisations to do their best to minimise the impact of macroeconomic challenges.

The talent shortage is one we’re unlikely to overcome for a few years, however Australian businesses have opportunity aplenty to stifle the negative impact through dedicated development programs for existing employees eager to ramp up their own skillsets.

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