How We Can Change The Inherent Bias In Tech And Ease Our Tech Skills Crisis

By Pamela Connellan
on 13 September 2022

If you think we have a tech skills crisis here in Australia – you’re right. At a recent technology conference, Anthony Murfett, Head Of Division Technology and National Security for the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, said we’ll need to fill “1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030” in a “socially inclusive way”and this won’t be easy.

In his keynote speech, Murfett pointed out that we need to reach young people at a much earlier age and encourage them to take up a role in technology by offering them positive role models – especially for women – so we can start to change the inherent bias in this industry.

“I think that’s just the market that’s happening at the moment… We’ve got to back ourselves about what we’re doing in technology and do this in an inclusive way with role models so people can see what they think they can be. The question is – how do we start as early as possible?” he asked.

“I think there are two disengagement points – around age nine and age 13. These are the two points where they’ve found young people can move away from science, tech, engineering and innovation if we’re not careful. So we have to make sure we’ve got the engagement with them before then,” Murfett added.

As he continued, Murfett said when we refer to the “digital economy” we’re really simply talking about “the economy” because there aren’t many jobs now “…that don’t use digital technology in some form or other.”

He said the skills crisis is not so much a “job gap” but a “job opportunity” and it’s all about how we can embrace the diversity we have here in Australia so we can improve our technology and importantly – be inclusive at the same time. As he said: “Because technology – being as good as it is – can still have inherent bias and the more we can address this, the better off we’ll be.”

Anthony Murfett has been in tech for quote some time

“I’ve been involved in tech industry policy for a very, very long time… In the context of technology, we know there is increasing competition and uncertainty. We know we’re sitting in a very rapidly changing geopolitical environment. It’s changing what’s happening to supply chains. If we look at just things outside of the tech sector around AdBlue – not being able to access AdBlue meant our logistics system was under threat,” he said.

Murfett added: “… for those that don’t know my background, I currently look after the Technology and National Security Division in the Department of Industry, which means I do the deep dives on this and provide advice to government on what are other opportunities on areas such as quantum AI and robotics.”

“And prior to this role, I set up the Australian Space Agency with Dr Megan Clark,” he added. “I spent four years looking at Australia’s space ecosystem. Prior to that, I worked in the US for three years in the Australian Embassy where my whole focus was on understanding what was happening in the US and what was happening in Australia and trying to bridge the opportunities between the two countries – but more importantly, learn from their innovation system and what Australia can do here.”

Here in Australia, we need to back our ambition

“So again, this actually does have implications for technology, because if we can’t get the goods, we can’t develop products. So that’s changing and it really means Australia needs to think through what are the opportunities and how do we back our ambition? What do we do here? It’s also very clear we can’t do everything, so how do we strategically invest? How do we strategically partner to ensure that Australia’s able to provide that way of life that we’ve all come to be accustomed to?” he asked.

“We’ve also got the pandemic that we’re now, hopefully, coming out the other side of and it just reinforces the fragility that exists in markets – and reinforces the importance of how we work with our partners.

“We want to have that way of life we’re accustomed to and we want to do it in a socially inclusive way. It means that Australia has an ongoing role to be a real leader in the region. And I’ve been working in this area for a while. I know if we get these things right, this is something we can absolutely do. And for those who haven’t met Minister Husic (the current Minister for Industry and Science), we’ve got an advocate and a champion here who will drive that, going forward into the future. I’m sure you’re going to hear a lot about the rapid pace of development of technology as we go forward because it is going very, very fast,” he added.

“The problem is, how do we work across the whole ecosystem to get into that area? The evidence is showing we have to start earlier. And I wanted to highlight some of the education programs which are in place to start the process. The Jobs and Skills Summit 2022 (held on the 1st and 2nd of September) has been brought together so we can actually understand this across the whole economy and then come out with what a new plan might look like on the other side,” Murffett added.

At the conference, Murfett was asked an interesting question by an audience member: “Do you think more needs to be done to create the right sort of kudos for tech careers? I think it’s still a bit lacking. I was talking to a very successful mature lawyer the other day. He was boasting about the fact that he persuaded his son to not go into law, but to go into data science and he added he got four of his friends to do the same thing. He added that after a year or two, young data scientists are earning more than young lawyers. But I don’t think people generally see that kind of kudos in these tech professions do you?”

Murfett answered saying: “That actually came up this week – I think it’s about the question – how do we get the tech champions? And it’s across all the demographics as well. We have to think about how we can do this better. We need to look at where the skills are needed, but also where the jobs are going to be. And to give you an example – I think there’s a large company in the US that is paying an entry salary between $220,000 to $300,000 for a PhD technical student with no industry experience.”

For more from Women Love Tech about careers in the tech field, visit here.

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