As Australia begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, thoughts are naturally turning to economic recovery.
The Australian economy has taken a big hit from the pandemic. The economy is expected to have contracted by 7 per cent in the June quarter. At the end of the year, the economy is forecast to be almost 4 per cent smaller than it was at the start of the year.
This impact is being felt across the nation. Over 700,000 jobs were lost in the June quarter. Almost 1 million businesses and not-for-profits are accessing JobKeeper. 3.5 million Australians are receiving JobKeeper. Over 1.5 million Australians are looking for work and in receipt of JobSeeker. Official unemployment is likely to approach 10 per cent by the end of the year.
Any recession leaves its scars. Of businesses that close and never come back. Of industries left permanently smaller or gone altogether. Of workers who must re-train and re-skill if they are to find a job.
The economy is a dynamic entity: it is continually undergoing change. But a recession accelerates and dramatises these changes and makes them more visible.
This COVID-19 recession will be no different. Some businesses will close and not reopen. Some industries will be left permanently smaller. Some Australians will find themselves looking for work.
But as the economy always does, it will recover. New industries will be born. New sectors will emerge or grow larger. New businesses will open. New skills will be in demand.
The challenge for government and for policymakers is to support this recovery, seek to make the transition as frictionless as possible, and lean into the change.
To emerge from this crisis with our living standards intact, we need to ensure new jobs are created, and we need to ensure that the jobs being created are the jobs of the future.
On any reckoning, it should be technology-intensive jobs and industries that help lead this recovery in Australia.
Technology companies have been one of the few beneficiaries of COVID-19 disruption, as people have flocked to new platforms and tools to work, learn, shop and socialise remotely.
What was a slow-growing trend has leap-frogged into a widespread and enduring behavioural change.
On top of this, the COVID-19 crisis exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains and elevated national resilience as a new goal. There will be a desire to ensure some on-shoring of critical capabilities, in areas such as advanced manufacturing, data management, vaccine production and cyber protection.
In the post-COVID Australia, we should all want to see more successful tech businesses and more people working in tech.
The 2019 Digital Pulse Review, published by Australian Computer Society and Deloitte Access Economics, forecasts that demand for technology workers will grow by 100,000 between 2018 and 2024 in trend terms.
This was a pre-COVID-19 forecast. The new level of demand is likely to be even higher.
It also predicts the technology workforce increasing to 792,000 workers over the same period.
But the Australian pipeline of talent is currently only meeting somewhere less than half of this growing need. The rest is met by importing skilled workers, either through migration or skilled visa streams.
The health reality of the pandemic is that international arrivals into Australia will be running at only a fraction of the usual pace over the next several years.
So, if we are to meet this growing demand for talent, we will need to produce it locally.
With many Australians looking for new work post-pandemic, there is spare capacity in the labour market to tap.
If we can provide the skills and training needed to meet these new jobs, we will solve two problems at once. We will help get people back into work, and we will provide the workforce needed for a growing industry.
Government has a part to play, in supporting re-skilling and re-training opportunities.
Industry has a part to play, in helping define the skills and competencies that are needed and translating this into learning and content.
Investors have a role to play, ensuring that capital is deployed to support these growth businesses.
And universities and the tertiary sector have a critical role to play, increasing the versatility of their offerings and working with industry on short, intensive courses that get participants job-ready for these new jobs.
There is a big opportunity here, but it will not fall into our laps. It will take a willingness to imagine new industries and new opportunities and to shift some of our assumptions about the nature of work in a modern economy.
Dave Sharma is the Federal Member for Wentworth and a former Australian Ambassador to Israel.
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