EXCLUSIVE: Readifying the next generation of tech talent
- 09 August, 2016 05:42
Graeme Strange - Managing Director, Readify
Despite the limitless opportunities flowing through technology, Australian businesses remain bound by a worsening skills shortage.
ARN addressed the issue with Readify Managing Director, Graeme Strange, seeking answers as to how the industry can create the next generation of tech talent.
To operate on the competitive stage of innovation, Australia in tandem turns to its skilled ICT workers. It is technology, after all, that contributes to a significant slice of the national economy, forecasting to grow from $79 billion in 2014 to $139 billion in 2020, swelling to a seven per cent share of the GDP.
With such increase comes opportunity, and a growing demand for tech talent, with more than 100,000 new workers required during the next five years.
Yet as the country calls out for a workforce equipped with the ICT skills required to fuel its digitally-driven economic growth, where will the talent come from?
Industry research shows that the number of graduates with ICT qualifications has dwindled since the early 2000s, leaving Australia’s private industry and economy in the lurch due to a deepening skills shortage.
Long-standing Microsoft partner, Readify, is one channel partner determined to address this issue, launching industry initiatives designed to foster new blood with core Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skill sets.
In leading one of Australia’s fastest growing and most innovative software development specialists, Strange said during the past six years, a lack of local skills has impacted market progression, reflecting an industry-wide issue.
“As a nation we’re great consumers of technology but we need to become great creators of technology,” he said. “It needs to be invented in Australia.
“We’ve had to search overseas to bridge the gap between what we can hire locally versus what we need as there’s a skill shortage in software development and data analytics.”
While Australia remains fortunate enough to entice overseas skilled workers to such golden and sun-kissed shores, Strange said its ability to cherry-pick from a large pool of overseas specialists means efforts to nurture local talent have fallen short.
Looking to the future, Strange believes the STEM skills shortage will continue to “inhibit productivity” growth in the Australian economy, posing greater risk as the country becomes driven by digital technology amidst a tapering mining boom.
“We can’t keep relying on digging stuff out of the ground,” he added. “We’ve got to rely on differentiating ourselves. But where are these people going to come from?
“If you look into the crystal ball, eventually we will become a dumb country, not the smart country we are capable off.”
Edging closer to innovation
In adopting a strong stance on the STEM issue, Strange said that without direct access to cheap labour in Australia, the nation simply “can’t compete” on a level footing with many other economies, heightening the need to compete on innovation.
For Strange, STEM skills lay the foundation for future success, calling on the country to edge closer to innovation by promoting ICT careers at primary education level.
“Education departments and government have a responsibility to teach code at a young age to pave the pathway from school to workforce,” he said.
“It starts back in kindergarten when kids are learning to count. There’s no reason why kids can’t be learning the language of the modern age which is code. Maths, English, coding - why not?”
As a passionate advocate of nurturing the next generation of talent, Strange believes that teaching technology must be taught in a realistic context, advising teachers and career counselors to apply relevant scenarios in the classroom.
“Just make it cool and give it context,” he said. “There are some amazing problems that we face in society that can be solved with core maths skills. Analytics, access to data and predictive analysis on patterns, these are the skills required to solve the problems of the modern age.
“How do you solve the problem of legionnaire's disease in hospital? Through maths.”
As a 30-year industry veteran, Strange questioned the actions currently put forward to arm teachers and career counselors with training.
While specialist skills such as coding open up a wealth of opportunity for Australia, Strange said educators may not be appropriately communicating the growing opportunity to students.
“We need to do better in our explanation of what kids can do with these skills in the future,” he advised. “Coding gives you skills to take into the workforce that makes you special.
“What are we doing about enabling our career counselors in schools?
“If I was a career counselor and was trying to convince a primary school student to study code, I would ask them to name a doctor or a lawyer that makes more money than Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.
“If you look at the mega companies that have been produced over the last few decades like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Snapchat, these are all worth billions and billions of dollars.
“And guess what? The foundations and values are all based around code.”
Jobs of the future
In drawing on over a decade of board-level experience, Strange said the jobs of the future require skills in design thinking and data science, applicable to upcoming jobs as software developers, economists, mathematicians, data analysts and engineers.
Specific to Readify – a Microsoft Worldwide Country Partner of the Year in 2013 – Strange seeks “problem-solvers” in his business, those who can find solutions through code.
“At Readify, we write software and a key area of our business is bespoke development and data analytics, so maths becomes a key component in finding insights from data and making decisions based on available information,” he said.
Through believing that core STEM skills offers a world of opportunity, Strange recently launched a two-year graduate program, designed to bridge the gap between tertiary education and the workforce.
The aim? “To capture and foster talent.”
“Collectively the industry needs to step up to overhaul the way we train our talent post- graduation, in the same way other professions such as legal and accounting tackle this issue,” he said.
“A bachelor’s degree can only partly equip you for the workplace and it becomes even more acute in the tech sphere as skills rapidly become obsolete. Universities struggle to keep up, and it’s incredibly challenging to continually update a curriculum to remain relevant.”
Through a partnership with Monash University in Melbourne, Readify recruits up to six university leavers every year through its program, which comprises of graduates and junior developers.
As part of the program, Strange said junior developers start work in the managed services arm of the business for three months, accompanied with a mentor before moving into assisting consultants on client sites.
Since striking up the partnership with Monash University six years ago, Strange has continued to build on the relationship, providing new graduates to a team that houses some of the country’s top tech talent, including six Microsoft MVPs.
“The program provides an environment for internships and gives graduates work-ready skills by working on specific projects in teams,” he added. “We have created an environment that better nurtures their skills.”
With a graduate application process that is “mature” by nature, every applicant must achieve a pass mark of 70 per cent for an online coding puzzle – entitled Knock Knock – as the first hurdle to clear before applying to work at the company.
“We’ve been doing this process for ten years,” he added. “If you are a true problem solver, then you think in a certain way. If you think in that particular way, then you are the right person for our organisation.”
Prior to Readify, Strange worked in both large and medium sized corporations, in roles such as COO, CTO and CIO, completing six years of independent technology consulting, while aiding the growth of successful Australia start-ups.
But with an overwhelming desire to accelerate business with new technology, Strange accepts that to lessen the STEM skills shortage, a “multi-faceted collaboration” must be sought between the public and private sectors, as well as industry bodies and education institutions.
“It’s all cause and effect,” he said. “If a business sets out to focus on kindergarten kids learning to code, it won’t immediately solve the problem, but does that mean it shouldn’t make it a priority?
“Businesses need to do things for the benefit of the industry and have a long-term focus on these things.”
In assessing the current landscape, Strange said that the industry as a whole can benefit through better communicating the value of having STEM skills in business.
At present, Readify teams up with CoderDojo, a global volunteer-led, community based programming club, highlighting a leading example of private sector collaboration.
“We have our people working closely with CoderDojo, a club that teaches 8-12 year-old children how to code,” he said. “Our staff spend time teaching so we can fill the gap for the skills teaching that doesn't exist in the current curriculum.”
The software company’s involvement with educational institutions also doesn’t stop short at the graduate program partnership, Strange added, with Murdoch University in Western Australia also making efforts to cooperate with Readify’s ground-breaking STEM strategy.
“The university reached out to us to help them with an ‘Innovation Council’ that is focused on how together, we can do a better job of producing highly innovative people,” he explained.
“These types of initiatives show that collaboration is going on in different pockets, but it could always be better.”
Despite acknowledging that collaboration between universities and business “could still be better”, Strange is helping cement steps towards a prosperous STEM future for Australia.
Having come through the industrial age, the onus now lies on the industry to future-proof the next generation of tech talent in Australia, readying a nation for a new chapter of unrelenting change.
This article was originally published in the July issue of ARN magazine.