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Think beyond degrees: Microsoft calls for new approach to hiring tech workers

New push to hire tech workers via VET, with digital apprenticeships and virtual work experience coming soon

Companies employing people in STEM roles are missing out on tens of thousands of skilled tech workers by insisting applicants have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a new report from tech giant Microsoft and consulting firm Accenture.

The firms are calling for Australian-based organisations to aim to hire 20% of tech workers through alternative pathways by 2030, moving to hire for skills, not education. The report says this would unlock an additional 31,000 workers from diverse backgrounds. 

It comes as National Skills Week kicks off with a focus on changing and challenging the perceptions of what is on offer in vocational education and training (VET).

Alternative pathways include VET courses, micro-credentials, intensive pre-work courses (bootcamps) and work-integrated learning (apprenticeships, cadetships and traineeships).

“We have a real opportunity to make a difference,” says Tenielle Colussi, managing director of talent and organisation at Accenture Australia and one of the authors of the report.

“By removing barriers and ensuring job opportunities are open to those who have alternate pathway experience, or offering programs that include alternative pathways, we’re not only solving for a talent gap, but creating exciting and fulfilling opportunities for amazing individuals who would have remained hidden in the workforce.”

The report says two in five tech jobs in the US and Canada don’t require a degree, whereas in Australia, nine out of 10 job ads for STEM roles require a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

It says this “grads first” approach is reducing our ability to create a thriving and diverse workforce, citing Department of Education and ABS data showing just 1 in 3 university students in STEM are women, 1 in 20 have a disability and only 1 in 100 identify as First Nations Australians.

New virtual apprenticeship and work experience opportunities

The Australian Government and the Australian tech sector have a shared commitment to achieve 1.2 million tech jobs in Australia by 2030, which will mean 170,000 newbies joining the field, and also 300,000 workers who are willing to reskill or upskill in technology jobs.

Part of the plan to achieve the goal includes digital apprenticeships – so it’s worth keeping an eye online for when this program kicks off. It will allow people in entry-level tech jobs to earn while they learn, and have quotas for people from diverse backgrounds.

The government is also supporting a free national virtual work experience program to build awareness of tech careers among people who may not have felt like they were accessible. 

Work experience 2.0 is definitely worth checking out if you’re considering a tech career –  The Tech Explorer Program, an initiative championed by job simulation company Forage and Commonwealth Bank (CBA) makes work experience from home a real and very welcome alternative to traditional placements. 

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