Bring in the luddites!

The technology community in Australia needs more luddites.

We have just 1% of Aussies working in IT (or the broader category of ‘information media and telecommunications’, to be precise – via the ABS). In comparison, government – the industry in which I work – employs a whopping 10% of Australians. While this overlooks a lot of people who could be counted as IT folk (does a tech at my work count as working in government or IT?), it shows we have a small pool of ‘tech people’ to work with.

This would be fine if technical skills were a niche requirement in Australian industries. However, Deloitte’s shown that 65% of the Australian economy will experience a ‘big bang’ of ‘digital disruption’. As they put it, “digital opens up unprecedented possibilities. These innovations are changing economies and markets, and reinventing relationships between organisations, suppliers and customers. They are changing society.”

For half of these industries, this disruption will peak in the next 30 months. In all of these industries, there will be a desperate need for people who understand the potential of digital technology, how it can enhance their work and the threats it poses for those in the industry who don’t respond to the way their competitors’ use technology.

However, the pool of people who will sufficiently understand digital technology is not expected to expand in time to be useful for this ‘big bang’. An estimated 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge. Yet employers find that a quarter of the time, it’s a lack of skilled applicants that prevent them from hiring employees in STEM fields.

There is an answer to this conundrum: we need to welcome more luddites into our technical communities. Okay, so luddites may be there as a catchy title. The people we need are those who don’t understand the technology, but who are willing to learn once they’ve been deliberately and deeply exposed to the potential benefits that technology can contribute for their work.

A colleague of mine recently demonstrated this within my workplace. While already established as a savvy operator and experienced project manager, she recently discovered the idea of open data and recognised its potential to revolutionise government work. However, she has fought to be recognised for her skills in some circles because they centre of their work – open data and the technology that it relates to – is not something about which she is familiar.

The example I’ve given will turn out well. The individual is tenacious and keen to learn, and the community is patient and understanding. But it makes me wonder: how many other people have stepped back from the open government agenda or other equally technical issues because they don’t feel welcome in the community? We need to make a place for these less technical people; to reach out and show them why they care about the work we do. We need to make sure they’re working by our side to do great work with technology for years to come.

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2 thoughts on “Bring in the luddites!

  1. Zach says:

    Making technical fields more approachable in the short term is admirable. It ought to be something industry strives for, and supports. That said, it becomes far more difficult when we as a society make it hard for 50% of the population to engage with STEM- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/gender-gap/story-e6frgcko-1226685084114

    I suspect the issue of technical illiteracy in the workplace will not be alleviated until excitement and engagement with tech becomes less about ‘geek culture’ and more about mainstream understanding of the enormous possibilities tech provides.

    Incidentally, this is happening in Dec in Adelaide: http://stemstates.org/stemfest-2014.html

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