Business growth hampered by gaps in tech skills

| July 26, 2018
Five key roles have been identified as growth multipliers for Australia’s startup ecosystem, according to the Startup Talent Gap report released by StartupAUS, Australia’s peak national advocacy group for startups.

The report is the product of collaboration with Microsoft, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Google and reveals several immediate and developing talent shortages, with the following roles identified as immediate critical skills gaps:

Coders – including full stack developers, front-end, back-end, and mobile
Startup-focused sales roles – account managers and business development managers
User experience (UX) designers

Additionally, the following roles were identified as emerging skills gaps in the Australian market:

Product managers
Data scientists

The report combined surveys of and in-depth interviews with 23 successful scale-up founders with a custom LinkedIn data set looking at roles and hiring among young Australian tech firms. Results were then measured against hiring patterns from international peers including New Zealand, Canada and Finland, alongside data from countries with top-tier technology ecosystems, including the US, Germany and Israel.

StartupAUS COO Alex Gruszka says there are two key ways to inject talent into our startup ecosystem – education and migration – but warns that Australian startups are not just competing with each other, but also battling it out with the world’s most promising young companies and global tech firms

“The Startup Talent Gap report uses a data-driven approach to identify the highly-skilled, high-impact roles that can trigger high-growth in businesses and are proving difficult to fill. We analysed what top founders across the country told us they were looking for in their businesses, and cross-referenced that with broader hiring trends visible in aggregated data provided by LInkedIn.

We found that some roles were in universal demand across the globe, while some niche technology roles were in high demand in more advanced ecosystems, but not yet in Australia. This gives us an excellent insight into not only what are the key skills gaps in the Australian technology sector today, but also what skills will be in high demand in the near future.

“Education is our medium-term solution.  It’s critical to identify these skills gaps and pinpoint the most immediately in-demand jobs in the technology space, so we can generate a local talent pool that is equipped with the skills and expertise that will be valuable to our fastest growing businesses.

We also need to consider how we can make Australia as attractive and open as possible in the short-term to entice this coveted talent to our shores, considering the race to sign them is globally competitive,” said Mr Gruszka.

Professor Margaret Maile Petty, UTS Executive Director, Innovation and Entrepreneurship said “With education being key to equipping our future workforce, at UTS we believe pairing disciplinary depth with enterprise skills is critical for producing the quality graduates the startup ecosystem needs. And this is not just what our students need, it’s what they want.

With 40 per cent of them wanting to create their own ventures, we are implementing a number of initiatives to support them. This includes our recently signed partnership with Fishburners to place students in startup internships – bridging the gap between learning and doing. We have also introduced future-facing degrees centred on solving real life industry problems, like the Bachelor of Transdisciplinary Innovation.

“How successfully we overcome the talent gap will depend on how quickly we can adapt our education system. At UTS we know we can’t do this without close collaboration with industry and the startup ecosystem. We are committed to forging new and innovative partnerships that will allow us to bridge the talent gap – together,” said Mrs Petty.

The report revealed that product – the technical position which controls the creation, iteration and development of the core products of the business – is the most pressing focus for scale-ups, featuring as an important role in every category, and dominating overall talent conversations. Given the clear prominence of product in terms of the difficulty of past hires, this is a role that startups prioritise early.

Data science also featured strongly as a present and future area of business concern. Very early stage startups lack capital for non-core employee roles and have smaller datasets, making data science an expensive luxury. However, as they start to scale, the organisation has both more users and more ability to hire, leading to data analysis as a tempting strategic option.

Despite a focus on data science and product management in the conversations with Australian scale-up founders, ‘product manager’ and ‘data scientist’ roles did not feature in Australia’s LinkedIn data results, as it did in the data for the international counterparts. This indicates that Australia’s ecosystem is not as mature as some of the global comparisons. The scale-up founders focus on the importance of these roles is a lead indicator that demand for data and product roles is set to increase substantially.

Despite the focus on newer, startup-specific skills, there is still strong recognition of the value of traditional business roles. Sales and marketing are two of the top three components cited as important for reaching the scale-up phase.

While these roles are not specified as difficult to hire, startup-focused sales and marketing roles are distinct from their counterparts, with the key skills gap centering on technical ability. The data suggests that closing this skills gap could offer significant growth potential for businesses looking to hire in these important roles.

“This report brings much needed balance to the discussion around the future of work.  Whilst we acknowledge there is much to be done to help workers in disrupted industries transition into new roles, it is also incredibly important that we shine a light on where those jobs of the future are, and the pathways to getting these exciting and rewarding roles,” said Steven Worrall, Microsoft Managing Director.

“The report’s finding that sales and marketing are crucial to start-ups is no surprise to Microsoft and is one of the key areas of support Microsoft offers to its Scale-Up program participants.”

Anil Sabharwal, Vice President of Photos and Communications at Google added “Demand for software engineering expertise has created a highly competitive global market for talent. Google sees the potential to build on our strong local presence and emerging Australian engineering talent to develop teams here in Australia – but to do that we have to be able to draw on global digital skills.

The markets that make that easy will have an edge creating new jobs and attracting the people we need to build the companies of the future.”

The largest volume of job postings in the Australian cohort were for technical roles, with nine out of the top 15 most advertised positions being for developers, software engineers and UX/UI roles. This was mirrored in the international data which  highlights sustained high levels of demand for tech skills globally. It is clear that for those early stage businesses with fewer than 200 employees, a pipeline of STEM talent is critical.

As Australia’s high-growth tech ecosystem matures and more startups continue to scale, it is likely that their demand will begin to mirror the experience of the scale-up founders studied for this research. If so, Australia will see a shift in its talent gap, moving more in line with our international peers.