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Ensuring that Australian businesses have access to world-class talent

Australia has produced some of the world’s finest AI minds and is an attractive destination for global AI talent. To remain competitive and realise the benefits of an AI-economy, our workforce must constantly retool and reskill (RMIT 2021).

Technological change is creating new types of job opportunities. From 2014 to 2019, emerging professions associated with data and AI grew faster than other types of professions in 20 major economies, including Australia (Figure 1). Shortage of high-end AI talent is one of the most pressing challenges for businesses looking to deploy AI technologies (Silverpond 2019). The CSIRO’s Data61 estimates that industry will need up to 161,000 additional AI specialist workers by 2030 (Hajkowicz et al. 2019:iv).

Preparing our existing workforce and society for an AI-enabled economy requires a system-wide approach. This is why the Australian Government is taking meaningful steps to help ensure all Australians have the skills to engage with the digital economy and are ready for the jobs of the future. The Australian Government’s investment starts in schools and carries through to on-the-job training, and is being advanced through a raft of different initiatives. It recognises both the hard and soft skills necessary to participate in a digital economy and required in the development of AI.

Figure 1: Annual growth and number of opportunities of selected professional clusters from 2014 to 2019 in 20 major economies

Figure 1 is a scatter diagram that plots opportunities against the annual growth rate of each selected professional cluster. This graph shows that the Data and AI profession has the highest annual growth percentage  when compared to the annual growth percentages of other professions such as  Engineering and Cloud Computing; Sales, Marketing and Content; People and Culture; and Product Development.

Source: World Economic Forum (2020:9), used with permission


AI direct measures

The Next Generation AI Graduates program will provide $24.7 million to increase Australia’s specialist AI talent through targeted scholarships. It will address industry skills shortages and train diverse cohorts of AI students on industry projects desired and needed by industry.

Since 2018, more than $200 million has been awarded by the Australian Research Council on projects, linkages and fellowships that involve AI. In particular, the ARC Linkage Program promotes national and international research partnerships between researchers and business, industry, community organisations and other publicly funded research agencies. The research projects funded through this program encourage the transfer of skills, knowledge and ideas as a basis for securing commercial and other benefits of research. Grant opportunities are made available through a number of schemes under the Linkage Program. Funding is awarded to support the highest quality applied research through national competition across all disciplines.

In October 2020, the Australian Government committed $20 million to establish the Centre for Augmented Reasoning at the University of Adelaide. The centre will support Advanced Reasoning research through PhD scholarships and will increase AI literacy and engagement in Australia.

Driving the growth of technology and digital skills

The Next Generation Emerging Technology Graduates Program will provide $22.6 million to deliver more than 200 competitive national scholarships in emerging technologies to meet our advanced technology needs. This initiative will build on and complement the new Next Generation AI Graduates program.

The Digital Skills Cadetship Trial is providing $10.7 million to support innovative trials of cadetships for digital careers to increase the number of Australians with high-level digital skills. This aims to deliver digital skills in a more flexible and timely way through a 4–6 month cadetship comprising formal training with on-the-job learning.

Additional funding of $43.8 million is being provided to expand the Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund. The fund is for industry and education providers to deliver more projects that meet local requirements to quickly improve the quality and quantity of cyber security professionals in Australia. The fund builds on the broader Cyber Security Strategy 2020. This strategy is creating a more secure online world for Australians, our businesses and the essential services upon which we all depend. It included an initial $26.5 million for the Cyber Security Skills Partnerships Innovation Fund.

The Foundation Skills for Your Future Program – Digital Project Rounds is providing $5 million to prioritise projects with a digital skills focus to improve foundational skills for employed or recently unemployed Australians. The program supports Australians who need flexible training in reading, writing, maths, English language and digital skills.

Foundational policy settings

The Australian Government is providing $5.8 million to scope a University Research Commercialisation Scheme to better translate and commercialise university research outputs. The scoping study will develop options for the establishment of the scheme, drawing on advice from universities, industry and other experts.

The Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce is actively targeting exceptional global talent. This includes academics, researchers and experts at the top of their field who can drive innovation in future-focused industries to come to Australia and develop their ideas here. The initiative aims to fill critical skills gaps and bring new technologies, cutting edge research and development, as well as IP and capital to our shores.

The government’s demand-driven skills system is supporting Australians to acquire the skills and training they need to meet the needs of the modern Australian workplace. The Job Ready Graduates package and JobTrainer Fund are ensuring Australians can skill up for their future. They are also ensuring we build the right mix of skills needed to enable business to adopt and develop emerging technologies. The Job-Ready Graduates package is delivering more job-ready graduates in the disciplines and regions where they are needed most. The package is helping to drive the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The JobTrainer Fund is providing additional training places in areas of identified skills need such as health, aged and disability care, IT and trades for job seekers and young people, including school leavers.

The Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy is supporting businesses and Group Training Organisations to take on new apprentices and trainees to build a pipeline of skilled workers to support sustained economic recovery. As part of this measure, the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network will deliver additional Gateway Service places and enhanced In-Training Support for women interested in, or starting, an apprenticeship in a non-traditional trade occupation.

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