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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tech worker shortage a disruptive force for growth plans: CFO

Her peer at Westfield landlord Scentre Group, Elliott Rusanow, said shopping centres were bustling and retail sales were strong. “There’s no reason to think that isn’t going to continue,” he said. “There’s something like $60 billion of annual spending that would typically be spent on overseas tourism that is being seen in our economy here.”

NAB chief economist Alan Oster said spending at Black Friday sales events this year surpassed last year’s and suggested consumers were starting to cash in on their historically high levels of savings. Mr Oster is expecting the economy to grow by at least 2 per cent in the December quarter and by 4 per cent next year.

But the chief financial officers uniformly spoke of the difficulty in attracting and retaining technology professionals and said this threatened to undermine their growth plans.

We used to trade off employees between Seek and Carsales – and now it’s Bunnings.

— Janelle Hopkins, REA Group

A handful, including BHP’s David Lamont and REA Group’s Janelle Hopkins, called for an immediate ramp-up in skilled migration, which the government has resisted ahead of next year’s federal election.

Most are then resigned to paying more. “We’re going to see [upwards] pressure on wages. What’s important is have we got economic growth to go with it?” said Telstra’s Ms Brady

Under its new T25 strategy the telco giant is forecasting yearly single-digit earnings growth, but hiring technology professionals to service the shift to digital that has been accelerated by the pandemic is proving tough.

“If we need to pay higher wages – fine,” says REA Group CFO Janelle Hopkins. Edwina Pickles

“Every business in Australia now is actually after tech resources,” Ms Brady said. “Digitising your business is so essential, particularly as we look to where growth comes from in the economy.”

Ms Hopkins of REA Group, which owns online platform realestate.com.au, noted the “war for talent” was across industries.

“We used to trade off employees between Seek and Carsales – and now it’s Bunnings. As everybody is digitising, everybody needs tech staff,” she said.

“If we need to pay higher wages – fine – but how’s that going to help us generate new products and new revenue streams in the future?”

BHP’s Mr Lamont, who spoke alongside Ms Hopkins, noted the big mining company needed technology people too. “I think it’s going to be something that we’re all going to grapple with over the next five to 10 years,” he said. “How do we actually use modern technology, AI, etcetera, to assist us in running operations?”

Westpac chief financial officer Michael Rowland frankly admitted that big banks had become accustomed to poaching digital talent from consulting firms, but closed international borders meant that hunting ground has been battling its own shortages.

“The big bottleneck going forward is financial transformation skills,” Michael Rowland said. Edwina Pickles

Mr Rowland told the Summit the bank was searching for “people who can take long and detailed processes and digitise and automate them. That is in high demand”.

“The big bottleneck going forward are financial transformation skills, they are really hard to find in the market at the moment,” he said.

“We are seeing wage inflation coming through at the high levels, not across the board, but in high-demand roles – absolutely.”

Hiring graduates, flexible working among solutionsChallenger chief financial officer Rachel Grimes said there was a case to take on more graduates in areas where there were not enough workers.

She also said firms should be open to offering employees more flexibility in terms of hours and travel to attract talent.

CSL chief financial officer Joy Linton said the biotechnology giant had struggled to find enough data scientists, engineering specialists and technology workers.

She said CSL used to relocate talent globally to fill these roles, but this had not been possible over the past year and a half.

Scentre’s Mr Rusanow said the talent shortage was most acute in areas where skills were transferable, meaning people were attractive to lots of different employers.

“We are seeing that in wages pressures in areas such as technology and finance,” he said.

Aside from skilled migration, one thing BHP’s Mr Lamont said governments could do in the short-term was to keep interstate borders open.

“For us, one of the biggest difficulties we have had through the pandemic … is when the borders came down so quickly, how do you reshuffle your workforce in a very short period of time to actually continue to run the operation?”

Labour shortages are being experienced across the economy as a result of the country’s 18-month period of closed borders.

The number of job advertisements rose by 7.4 per cent last month to be 44.2 per cent above its pre-pandemic level, according to data released on Monday by ANZ.

One in five businesses across Australia has at least one job vacancy, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics, up from one in 10 before the pandemic.

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Mary Smith
I dream of having a big housе. Interested in history.

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