Demand for digital skills is growing around the world as businesses digitise their operations. But the supply of talent with relevant skills is not keeping up with this demand.

Research Telstra commissioned from the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) this year found that talent and skills shortages are amongst the two toughest challenges businesses around the world face in pursuing digital transformation. While 57 percent of executives surveyed across 45 cities think their city’s schools and universities do an effective job at turning out the talent firms need to drive digitisation, more than 40 percent said otherwise.

Digital security and advanced data analytics are identified as the two most critical skills needed for transformation, with ‘softer’ leadership skills such as networking and customer focus also a top priority.

With digital skills top of mind for business leaders around the globe, why isn’t the volume of talent keeping pace – and what can be done to change this?

One issue is the narrow pathways into technology-related careers. Although high-quality universities and other institutes are generating a growing volume of graduates with technology skills that fit the needs of companies, it’s simply not enough to keep pace with demand.

In today’s fast-changing workplace, there’s a greater need to create vocational pathways for high school students that are focused on technology in addition to traditional trade and technical careers.

Telstra is involved in a number of programs to address key skills gaps, including the Business Technology Services Academy, which is training future network and security talent as part of a three-year training program. More recently, we have also become involved in the Australian Government’s P-TECH program.

P-TECH is an innovative program that creates partnerships between schools and industry to strengthen young peoples’ employment prospects by equipping them with skills like coding and data analytics, and building interest in STEM subjects. It will also help create the defined career pathways that will carry today’s high schoolers into technology careers.

We are proud to be working with McCarthy Catholic College in Western Sydney as part of the P-TECH program. Over the course of 2018, we will contribute to the school’s curriculum and spend time with students at a number of interactive sessions.

Members of our team will take part in sessions at McCarthy Catholic College to help students get a real-world sense of the topics they’re studying, and learning will extend beyond the classroom too. Most recently, McCarthy College’s students completed an interactive tour of Telstra’s office in Sydney where they learned about the business by observing work in progress, met employees, and got to see first-hand some of our technology.

Central to P-TECH’s value is that it offers an alternative and practical route for students. Instead of going the university route, programs like these can help young people to pursue a career in technology straight out of high school.

Of course, universities will continue to play a key role in nurturing talent. But in this time of digital skills deficit, it’s a good chance to think outside the box. Industry can help with this at a grass-roots level by stepping up to facilitate these practical, hands-on experiences. It makes good business sense to invest in the development of future talent.

Read more about what else we’re doing to close the skills gap.