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Tech talent drought turning SMEs into ‘digital laggards’ – Report

By Zarah Torrazo
26 August 2022 | 11 minute read
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Businesses looking to drive growth through technology have been crippled by the global shortage of digitally savvy talent, according to a report by CPA Australia. 

One in three businesses believed that the scarcity of tech-skilled workers in talent pools is the main reason they are unable to gain digital ground, the Business Technology Survey 2022 found.

CPA Australia’s survey asked 820 accounting and finance professionals from south Pacific countries, including Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam, about the impact of technology on their respective industries. 

CPA Australia general manager media and content Dr Jane Rennie noted that businesses struggling to add more tech-savvy people on board had a lower potential for growth. 

“Businesses which fail to attract staff with digital skills are statistically more likely to be underperformers,” said Dr Rennie. 

The expert highlighted that while big businesses have the capacity to tackle the talent shortage issue, smaller businesses are being left in the dust. 

“Big businesses can put their financial muscle to work tackling the skills shortage by hiring contractors and offshore talent, outsourcing, and leveraging existing relationships with technology vendors.

“Small businesses are clearly struggling to keep up — one in five took no action to address the talent shortage,” Dr Rennie stated. 

This disparity between small and large businesses is evident in the report, which showed that while 94 per cent of large local businesses have a digital transformation strategy, only 46 per cent of small businesses have taken this step.

Overall, only 70 per cent of Australian businesses have a digital transformation strategy in place, according to the report. 

Dr Rennie said that “Australia’s small businesses are digital laggards among the Asia-Pacific”. She added that there is a global shortage of talent, particularly in the accounting and technology sectors. 

To address this problem, Dr Rennie recommended that SMEs improve their digital training. “One way to offset this lack of skills is to enhance the knowledge and capability of existing employees,” she said.

The expert also called on the government to step in and tackle the skills shortage issue, underlining that state-backed initiatives are needed to improve small businesses’ technology training.

“The federal government needs to consider businesses’ ability to compete for workers with digital talent and upskill existing staff at the upcoming Skills and Jobs Summit,” Dr Rennie said. 

She also highlighted that businesses that experienced growth over the past year had used technology more often than those that did not, while those that failed to grow also neglected their workforce’s digital skills. 

The report showed that businesses that were considered to have a successful 2021 financial year were more likely to hire staff with digital skills (40 per cent) and digital analytics knowledge (38 per cent), and add tech expertise to their senior management ranks (37 per cent) or upskill their staff (42 per cent).

On the other hand, businesses that did not record growth during the same period were less likely to invest in their workforce’s technology capability.

Among these underperforming businesses, only 14 per cent added new employees with digital skills in their ranks, while about a third trained up their existing workforce.

But the report also showed that Aussie businesses are beginning to smarten up and are looking to tech up. 

The survey found that 43 per cent of Australian businesses were planning to increase investment or upgrade their technology, with 28 per cent planning an increase in technology training for employees. 

“It’s heartening to see businesses plan to invest in technology but ensuring employees have the skills to use these tools needs to be a bigger priority,” said Dr Rennie. 

As firms and organisations around the world face complex global issues such as skills shortage, Dr Rennie emphasised that “technology is crucial for business success”. 

“Organisations that prioritise technology and digital skills are best placed to deliver additional value and handle future challenges,” she concluded. 

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