Australia needs global talent to boost “digital confidence” in new companies: ntegrity chief Richenda Vermeulen

The federal government’s plans to abolish the 457 visa scheme has disappointed many in the tech and startup sectors. Richenda Vermeulen, founder and chief executive of digital strategy agency ntegrity, discusses the issues this raises in a climate of poor digital confidence. 

While visas for all digital roles haven’t been abolished, I believe the government needs to tread very carefully when it comes to dismissing visas for overseas digital industry experts. This is why.

Last month, ntegrity released powerful new research findings into the digital confidence of Australian companies.

Alarmingly, the Australian Company Digital Confidence (ACDC) Report uncovered that there is not enough skilled digital staff in Australia, and investment in digital training is very low. This has resulted in Australian companies lacking extreme confidence with their digital performance.

The research found:

  • 70% of respondents had NO formal digital training, meaning everything they had learnt was on the job (the remaining 30% were trained through a mix of university, industry and online training modules);
  • Seven in 10 of respondents agreed that “more digitally skilled people would mean better business results”; and
  • Almost half agreed that “the company would save money if it had more highly skilled digital people”.

The immediate solution to this is for Australian companies to hire digital media experts from overseas. Not only will these employees help our companies reach their digital potential, they will also provide ‘on the job’ training for the next generation of home-grown digital staff.

On a personal note, I was fortunate to work in a digital media role in the United States for three years. The training I gained in this role was invaluable and I have been able to bring these insights home working both brand side and then launching my own agency.

We know that formal training will help close the digital confidence gap in Australia. Our report indicated that 80% of those with formal training felt confident in their digital marketing proficiency. And yet, only 56% of Australian companies allocate budget for digital training.

The government’s decision to replace the 457 visas with a training fund will help if some of this is channelled into digital training. However, high quality training must be led by skilled digital staff, and as there are very few of these in Australia we’re still left with the same problem: where will they come from?

Due to the significant skills shortage, my experience is that hiring new Australian graduates and training them is more efficient than searching for qualified staff in Australia.

We’re only able to do this because we’ve made a conscious decision to invest in training — seeing that it’s severely lacking in even the most renowned Australian universities.

The digital industry is a rapidly changing environment.

We can’t expect to be able to keep up with these changes and be major players on the world stage without the support of global experts.

I hope the government considers this to ensure digital confidence increases for Australian companies and they are able to reach their full potential.

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