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Can you secure a high-paying tech job without a degree?

Smiling professional young Asian businesswoman talking in front of the camera having video conference with her business partners on laptop in a contemporary office space
The options on how to pursue a career in technology are evolving for young job seekers. (Source: Getty)

Australia’s job market has been running hot in the last 12 months as a shortage of talent in several sectors has driven unemployment across the nation down to record lows.

While this may only be temporary for some industries as the market adjusts to the post pandemic conditions, one sector where employment opportunities are projected to increase long into the future is the technology sector.

A recent report from Deloitte Access Economics predicts that Australia will employ over 1 million technology workers by 2024, with this figure set to grow to 1.2 million by 2027.

The route into the sector has traditionally been to get a technology related degree, with employers placing a high emphasis on formal qualifications from prestigious universities when aiming to secure the best talent.

However, with the current skills shortage and projected demand increase in coming years, some are suggesting this view may be changing.

Which poses the question: Is it still necessary for young people to have a degree to secure a high paying role in technology?

Increased demand creating opportunity

“We’re seeing a shift towards employers valuing skills-based qualifications over degrees. In technology, a degree is still very useful for some roles, but it’s increasingly becoming more important to know if someone can perform the practical aspects of the job," Scarlett McDermott, chief technology officer of talent management platform With You With Me told Yahoo Finance.

McDermott’s view is based partly on her experience hiring IT staff during her own technology career, but is also backed with anecdotal evidence from her current employer, which has seen some employers shifting their recruitment focus in order to address the shortage of candidates.

This shift seems more likely to be a reaction to the current supply and demand imbalance rather than a change in perception of the value of degrees, but it is creating opportunities for young people who may have otherwise been excluded.

Data indicates young people have key skills for technology roles

Given this development, what are the skills that young people should be training themselves in to secure a role in the technology sector?

According to McDermott, the skills and aptitudes vary significantly depending on the type of position.

“If you are targeting a role in data analysis for example, you’ll need high numerical reasoning skills. Whereas if you’re wanting to design software systems, abstract reasoning is really important.”

The good news for younger jobseekers is that data collected from more than 600 15 to 25 year-olds on WithYouWithMe’s platform indicates that over 80 per cent already have ‘intermediate’ or ‘above average’ skills in many areas required within the technology sector.

For example, many young people have above average levels of abstract reasoning and pattern recognition. These skills are particularly relevant for roles such as software engineering, as they enable the ability to identify past behaviour patterns and predict future problems before issues arise.

virtual human graduate silhouette on technology background illustration
Technology graduates will still be in high demand in coming years. (Source:Getty)

Degrees still relevant for many

So, does this mean that an IT degree is no longer relevant when trying to secure a role in today’s technology sector?

“In our experience, It comes down to the employer and their preferences, with some firms having a degree qualification as standard,” Tyler Swan, director of IT specialist recruitment firm Clarrow told Yahoo Finance.

Interestingly, he goes on to give examples of some organisations establishing their own “pre-employment programs”, with some targeting seekers straight from high school to identify talent earlier than their competition.

However, Swan still believes there is a place for IT graduates in the evolving technology job market.

“Ultimately, a degree is an indication of your aptitude to learn, and for younger job seekers with relatively little work experience, this is still going to be an important indicator for many employers,” he said.

While the demand for IT graduates is likely to remain high in the coming years, it appears the barriers to entry into the technology sector are shifting.

Although the job market for technology roles is almost certain to create massive opportunity for young Australians in the coming decade, it seems a combination of formal qualifications and practical experience will be the best way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

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