Australia’s mismatched workforce

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Business leaders should take a proactive and strategic approach to address skills gaps in 2020.

The age of automation is often discussed as if it is far off and futuristic. Robots are typically associated with science fiction, rather than modern day Australia. But the fact is, these technologies have already altered the way many Australians work and more jobs will change forever in 2020. 

The shift is already being felt in the hiring market, where employers are competing over a relatively small pool of professionals equipped with the cutting-edge skills required for new roles. 

Consider the technology space alone. If we assume that Australia could train an additional 100,000 workers over and above current levels over the next five years then this would add around $40 billion in net present value (NPV) terms to gross domestic product (GDP) over the next 20 years.

At the same time, PwC’s just released ‘New World. New Skills’ survey of over 22,000 adults across the globe including over 2,000 adults in Australia shows that 60% of Australian adults are worried that automation is putting jobs at risk but Australian workers are less likely to be upskilling than their global peers. Only 23% of workers (second least likely across the globe behind the UK) are upskilling through their employer. Clearly, Australia has a skills problem. 

The skills mismatch

The mismatch between the skills people have and those needed for the digital world is fast becoming one of the world’s most pressing problems. But when it comes to addressing this, Australia lags behind many nations. In 2018, the World Economic Forum ranked Australia’s population 23rd in the world for digital skills. And a 2019 report by the Digital Industry Group found that Australia’s ICT sector (as a proportion of GDP) was smaller than all OECD countries except Mexico.

There is certainly an appetite among Australians to learn. PwC’s ‘New World. New Skills’ survey shows 69% of adults are prepared to learn new skills or completely re-train in order to improve their future employability (this figure jumps to 77% among 18–34 year-olds). Yet only 23% are currently upskilling through their employer – which places Australia as the second least likely country to have people upskilling at work.

Become part of the solution

Business leaders cannot leave it to the education sector to solve this problem alone. Employers must start now by supporting today’s workforce in adapting to automation, robotics, machine learning and other technological advances. They must also play a part in preparing tomorrow’s workforce by talking with schools and universities to provide educators with a better appreciation of what the future of work will be.

Sixty percent of Australian adults are worried that automation is putting jobs at risk.

At the same time, it’s vital that Australia’s two million small businesses are not left behind. There’s a clear role for government and industry bodies to assist here, but big business can contribute too. Working with their supply chain, larger organisations can help small businesses understand the potential of new technologies and how the needs of their sector are changing. 

Businesses that fail to rise to this challenge could quickly have their markets (and talent) taken from them. In this time of increased economic uncertainty, business leaders owe it to their organisations, their people and the wider economy to act. 

Action is required to prepare for what the economy may have in store next year.

Business leaders should be asking five key questions:
  • Where do we find out about emerging technologies that can make us more streamlined and productive?
  • How do we build foundational skills across our whole workforce, and what niche skills will we need?
  • Where are the opportunities for us to engage with educators and prioritise the necessary upskilling and training?
  • How can we ensure our supply chain has the skills to evolve alongside us?
  • Where we can’t upskill our existing workforce, how do we responsibly assist employees to transition to a different organisation?


In 2020 we will deep dive into each of these issues. Only together can we solve these important problems and navigate the country through what is predicted to be a testing year for the economy. Contact us to help become part of the solution.

Contact us

Jeremy Thorpe

Partner, Insight & Economics, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 416 245 535

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