A coalition of technology and employment companies has called on governments to use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to retrain laid-off workers in critical tech skills, as the industry emerges as the top-performing job sector during the pandemic.
As many as one in four Australian workers could lose their jobs in the coming weeks, if they have not already, as the full effect of the virus lockdown is felt, according to analysis by The Grattan Institute.
Between 1.9 million and 3.4 million Australians will have lost their jobs by the time the pandemic is over, despite the government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, and anything but the most optimistic projections predict unemployment levels unseen since the Great Depression, the Grattan analysis found.
However, despite the gloom, tech sector jobs are booming.
LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social networking site for professionals, is one of the biggest job-seeker platforms in the country and figures from the network revealed that high-tech jobs were up 17.3 per cent in mid-March (the most recent period for which figures were available), compared with the same week in March last year.
That makes tech the best performing job sector in the country, Adam Gregory, senior director of talent solutions at LinkedIn, told The Australian Financial Review.
In contrast, the overall job advertisements market was down 2.8 per cent year on year, pulled lower by vanishing jobs in the education, recreation and travel and consumer goods sectors, which plummeted by as much as a quarter between March last year and March this year.
“It’s clear that COVID-19 and some of the decisions that were made around that like social distancing has had an impact on job [advertisements], but some industries have been hit harder than others,” Mr Gregory said.
“Job volume and hiring growth has dramatically reduced in education since COVID-19 hit, not least because foreign students weren’t able to return to Australia to study. Hospitality and entertainment have been very, very hard hit But we’ve seen growth in IT and services, and in healthcare.”
Software engineers, in particular, were in high demand, partly because so many employers were scrambling to enable remote working and needed as many technical people as they could find, Mr Gregory said.
“The knock-on effect of all the restrictions around travel and social distancing meant that a lot of companies had to move quickly to working remotely, and that’s putting a lot of stress on IT systems and services,” he said.
Jonathan Jeffries, director of the start-up growth and talent firm Think & Grow, told the Financial Review he had been working with a coalition of tech executives from companies such as GoCardless and Spotify to lobby governments to spend some of their huge COVID-19-related jobs budgets on retraining workers for tech-related jobs.
On Friday, the Victorian government agreed in principle to do just that with some of the $500 million it had budgeted for its Working for Victoria initiative, Mr Jeffries said.
“Workers need to be able to retrain in future-economy jobs using the allowances that governments are handing out,” he said.
“People are being put in this awkward predicament of being stood down but still paid. Rather than eventually retrenching them, we should be using their out-placement budget to retrain them into future-economy work.
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“Journalists who are laid off could be re-skilled into being content designers at Adobe. Analysts at consultancy firms or legal firms or banks could be re-deployed into data scientist roles or could become data and insights managers.
“A lot of white-collar work is not going to come back [after COVID]. Unlike the GFC, those jobs are not going to reappear. They’re not needed any more. We really do have to re-skill a lot of people, for them to even have a hope of getting a job again.”
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John Davidson is an award-winning columnist, reviewer, and senior writer based in Sydney and in the Digital Life Laboratories, from where he writes about personal technology. Connect with John on Twitter. Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org