There’s a buzzword that seems to crop up in Australia whenever an industry becomes even slightly competitive: “skills shortage”. After all, we are a small country, and the talent pools available to those in other developed countries are orders of magnitude larger than those we face here, argues Jeremy Crooks, managing director of digital performance ad company Criteo.
As a result, the skills — the really good skills — necessary to compete and dominate in the local market are more difficult to find.
But when it comes to advertising technology, I’d argue that recent talk of a skills shortage in Australia has little to do with the local skills available. Instead, it appears to betray a lack of attention paid to the incentives necessary to lure those skills from other companies — from competitors in advertising technology, technology generally, and elsewhere.
Just as at the dawn of the internet, Australia is several years behind the UK and the United States when it comes to the maturity of this industry. The local ad tech industry won’t simply spring up of its own accord.
There may be some truth to a lack of skilled supply in Australia at the moment — it comes with the territory of a burgeoning industry. However, this issue won’t be fixed overnight, and it certainly won’t be fixed without some effort.
There are technology companies that have already forged the path in Australia. Google and Facebook, to name a couple, have faced a similar dearth of skills and responded by developing significant skills pools in Australia that ad tech companies should keep an eye on.
The other prominent discussion — that companies waste investment in training and educating when graduates simply head elsewhere in search of a bigger salary — need to look at their own internal cultures. If salary is the only sticking point, is it really a place that a 20–something with big eyes for the world wants to work for the next decade?
Growing the industry, and finding the right skills, doesn’t come through money alone. Though salaries must be competitive, the incentives and perks that go alongside it are vital. Criteo is likely to significantly increase the number of Australian staff over the next couple of years, while simultaneously becoming one of the best places to work in Australia — that’s not a mark measured solely in dollar signs.
Those succeeding in this industry, and finding the right talent, are those brands that have the people, the culture, the product and — perhaps most importantly — the credibility to really put a stake in the ground. They offer the real opportunities to help shape an industry that has a lot of work to do before it can proclaim to be at the level that our global counterparts have reached.
Major technology companies complained of skills shortages in recent years, saying they were paying too much for Australian talent, all the while cutting their ageing — and highly skilled — workforce, while failing to offer the entry-level jobs that would serve to increase skills across the industry. We need to learn from those mistakes, and work out how to develop the ad tech industry here in Australia, before we lose our talent to other markets or industries.