Closing Skills Gaps in APAC with International Data

Published on Aug 24, 2023

Written by Mariana Marques

Skills shortages are a global challenge. In Australia, the government is even offering AUD $5,000 to apprentices who study sought-after skills by taking one of the occupations from the Australian Apprenticeship Priority List. The 46-page long list includes 111 occupations ranging from plumbing to engineering and nursing. In Singapore, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) released a paper identifying demand growth for skills across various fields, with green infrastructure and mobility skills growing almost 200% between 2018 and 2021. 

Other countries and continents are in the same boat - you may have heard that the EU Commission named 2023 the official Year of Skills, aiming to boost the skills of European workers, with a particular focus on digitalisation. So what can we do to close skills gaps before the boat sinks? The answer may lie in observing and picking labour market trends from other countries. 

In a recent webinar hosted by our Director of Customer Success for APAC Ben Van Tongeren, we explored some examples of skills trends in the US, UK and ANZ, and provided some guidance on how to adopt a skill-lens view to get ahead of skill changes. This blog covers the main takeaways of the webinar. 

The Skill Disruption Index

Before we delve into some examples of how international data can bring relevant insights to APAC institutions, let’s look into our Skills Disruption Index. A recent study by Lightcast and Boston Consulting Group, “Shifting Skills, Moving Targets, and Remaking the Workforce,” found that the skills underlying the average job have changed 37% between 2016 and 2021. 

The Skills Disruption Index also compared the average skills change across specific occupations, to understand which occupations have suffered the biggest skill transformations. To give some examples, for a technical writer role, skills have changed 69%, and even for a cook, required skills have changed 37%. This means that cooks in 2021 were required to have a skillset that was 37% different than in 2016. 

Skills Disruption Index

Plus, in the 25% of jobs with the highest skill disruption indices, there was a change of almost 80% of the top 20 skills, which were either new or have increased or decreased in importance. The index shows us just how fast skills demand is shifting, and how fast employers and institutions have to be in ensuring that students and workers can catch up to meet this demand. So, let’s get on to some answers, shall we?

Analysing US data: Software Engineering

APAC institutions don’t necessarily need to be looking at US data to understand the APAC labour market. However, understanding how trends are playing out in other countries, particularly in the US, which often leads the way in innovation, can give us a strong indication of what trends might be making their way onshore. 

Let’s look at Software Engineers first, which has a skills disruption indice of 86. With technology being one of the most fast-paced and innovative sectors, tech-related occupations are constantly evolving to match the ever-growing needs of tech enterprises. And that’s certainly the case with Software Engineers. 

Project management skills are highly desired for this occupation, and within this skills category, agile development leads the way - in the US, at least. Agile development was mentioned in  over 30% of US postings in 2022, a slight increase from 2021. However, in Australia and New Zealand, this skill only makes about 5% of job postings - and its frequency remained stagnant between 2021 and 2022. Based on the US data, it is likely that we will see agile development becoming increasingly more popular in the near future, especially as communication, teamwork, and speed are integral parts of software development teams nowadays.

Another sought after project management skill is Scrum. According to the State of Agile report, Scrum was the most popular agile methodology in 2022, adopted by 87% of respondents from around the world (up from 54% in 2020). This jump is reflected in our labour market data too - where there was approximately a 5% increase in Scrum mentions in job postings between 2021 and 2022, both in the US and ANZ. Scalability is another skill that has grown extensively - making these project management skills a key area of focus for both educators and talent leaders. 

Going back a few years, we can see that the US was quick to adopt the Scrum methodology, with the demand for this skill for Software Engineers growing steadily since 2012. ANZ was a few years behind, and it started seeing demand for Scrum from 2014 onward. This is one example of a trend that started in the US, yet caught up in  other countries just a few years later. In ANZ, there was also a significant drop in job postings requesting Scrum skill around 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which picked up again in 2020. 

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Analysing US data: Graphic Design

Graphic Designers have a high skill disruption indice of 67. Graphic Designer occupations also require a high level of software skills, but it is again noticeable that that US often tends to be a year or two ahead of other countries in the adoption of new innovations.

For example, looking at demand trends for Adobe Photoshop since 2012, ANZ saw a sizable increase in 2019, and continuous growth during Covid-19 times, so that by 2022 it was present in over 60% of job postings in the region. Whereas in the US, the biggest growth was seen in 2017, with demand declining since then, such that by 2022 it appeared in just 20% of job postings. So whilst the demand trend for Adobe Photoshop is still upward in ANZ, it is well worth keeping an eye on which new Graphic Design software solutions are emerging in the US data, as these may well be the region's growth skills of tomorrow.

Looking at their most in-demand baseline skills only, the differences between US and ANZ data are noteworthy. For example, in the US, self-motivation, customer service, and presentation skills are quite popular, with the latter being mentioned in about 20% of US job postings in 2020. 

However, in ANZ, our eyes are drawn to creativity and teamwork skills. Creativity was mentioned in over 70% of ANZ job postings in 2022, compared to about 8% of US postings. Teamwork was represented in almost 30% of ANZ job postings, while only in about 5% of US postings. This implies that Australian and New Zealand employers value collaboration and teamwork more than US employers, where teams could potentially be more siloed. This data could also be a reflection of the size of organisations: In ANZ, Graphic Designers tend to operate within smaller teams or boutique agencies, while in the US, the scale of marketing agencies is much larger, so each employee has specific responsibilities and more individuality. 

Using past trends to predict future ones 

Looking at past trends from overseas can help us spot potentially emerging trends, as well as compare our skills and occupation needs with those of other nations. While it is impossible to predict skills trends with full accuracy, the more educational institutions and organisations can plan ahead - the better, especially considering just how fast skills demand is changing across any occupation.

Whether you are looking to gain insights from your own country or region, or understand international trends and how they may affect your labour market, Lightcast has the labour market data you need. Send us a message below to discuss your labour market challenges and unlock new opportunities.

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