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Opening doors and closing gaps to reimagine skilling in Australia

When Chris Kapnopulos lost his father at the age of 18, his life turned upside down. About to embark on a degree in IT at the University of Western Sydney, he suddenly became the household’s sole breadwinner. Experiencing such a devastating loss at a young age saw Chris make some very practical decisions about the best way to support his family. One of them was swapping his degree for the Microsoft Traineeship Program. He saw an opportunity to significantly progress his dream of a career in technology while earning a wage: “I was getting paid to work with real IT systems while learning on the job.” Chris now holds the title of the Microsoft Traineeship Program’s first graduate and now works full-time as a Junior Power Platform Consultant at Sensei Project Solutions.

Launched in Australia in late 2018, the Microsoft Traineeship Program is a two-year IT-focused ‘earn-and-learn’ scheme – similar to an apprenticeship – that offers part-time study combined with a paid entry-level role in a host organisation. Working in partnership with host employers, not-for-profit apprenticeship organisation MEGT, Prodigy Learning and vocational training organisations such as TAFE, the Microsoft Traineeship Program provides a pathway into IT for budding technology professionals from all walks of life.

ANZ is a participating organisation with 17 trainees currently in the Program. Monika Shrestha, a working mum, is one of them. Monika moved to Australia from Nepal 10 years ago to start a family and a new life. An experienced Architect, she found that she was unable to afford the study needed to convert her degree in Australia. Instead, she took on a Manager role at a large fast-food chain, but the thought of a more challenging corporate role always beckoned. After the birth of her first child, her husband ‘dared her’, as she puts it, to reskill in a new career in IT. The Microsoft Traineeship Program was the perfect choice with its flexibility accommodating for the juggles between family and work life.

“I need to support my family so I can’t afford the time or money to study at university. Blending study and work has also been great for my work-life balance.” says Monika, who has almost completed her training as a Business Analyst at ANZ as part of the Program.

Another ANZ trainee, Rey Samson, knew from a young age that technology was a passion. When he arrived in Australia from the Philippines, he still dreamed of a technology career, but even as a BA graduate with years of work experience behind him, Rey found it extremely hard to land a professional role in IT. He then learned about the Microsoft Traineeship Program.

“I saw that an apprenticeship scheme like this would solve my catch-22 situation of needing local IT work experience to even be considered for an IT role.” reflects Rey, who is now a Project Office Industrialisation trainee supporting colleagues to find simple IT solutions to improve efficiencies in workflows and processes.

Chris, Monika and Rey’s stories are just three in thousands across Australia. Every day people are struggling to find that first role, and IT is one industry that needs great talent more than ever, so the barriers to entry demand keen attention.

There is a predicted 100,000 shortfall in technology workers by 2024. With the rolling economic impact of COVID-19 including the rise in skilled people losing their jobs, and the rapid acceleration of digital transformation; upskilling and reskilling programs for the IT industry must be considered with new urgency.

Any good talent strategy recognises that solving for skills gaps is not a myopic exercise, and broader opportunities for development and growth are essential. In this context, reskilling and upskilling programs have a unique role to play as talent strategies evolve to bridge current and predicted IT talent shortages and skills gaps. They also deliver one of the most diverse pools of talent in the Australian market.

Diversity and creating inclusive work practices, is a key driver for partner organisations considering hosting Microsoft trainees. In the Microsoft Traineeship Program in Australia there is a mix of school leavers, and workers with previous experience. At least 50% are looking to reskill from a variety of backgrounds including mechanics, chefs and hospitality workers. Over 65% come from diverse cultural backgrounds and 40% are women.

This is where Microsoft Partner ANZ Banking Group, an early adopter and joint architect of the Microsoft Traineeship Program, sees limitless potential. Carina Parisella Talent, Diversity & Innovation Lead, ANZ Technology talks about helping to build teams for the future of work that are reflective of our society: “The Microsoft Traineeship Program is a fantastic example of how we can tap into an untapped talent pool to give us breadth of talent. The trainees have a real interest in technology and bring a real-world savviness and richer perspectives to the business through their diverse backgrounds.”

Carina has also found there are longer-term retention benefits, sharing that, “the Program is more about the potential for trainees to grow and shine versus plug specific skills gaps. Through these experiences they become committed to stay with the company.”

Monika found the focus on development versus a specific skill need opened the door to new career options: “I was interested in the Business Analyst role even though it’s not technical. ANZ has given us the opportunity to try different roles and teams and has supported us to pursue the areas we’re interested in so we can follow our passion.”

Carina believes this growth mindset approach is a unique offering of the Program: “Mentoring on the job to learn about communication, leadership and how to map customer journeys will build depth as well as breadth of expertise.”

Chris, Monika and Rey will leave the Microsoft Traineeship Program equipped with hands-on work experience and a Certificate IV in IT from TAFE plus a batch of Microsoft-specific certifications. Many others will stay on in a full-time technology role in their host organisation or will be supported into employment with new organisations.

“The goal of the Microsoft Traineeship Program is to develop a new, diverse pipeline of exceptional IT talent, whilst working with the vocational education sector to more quickly upskill and transition people into the technology workforce in Australia,” explains Beth Worrall, National Skills Program Lead at Microsoft Australia.

“The goal of the Microsoft Traineeship Program is to develop a new, diverse pipeline of exceptional IT talent, whilst working with the vocational education sector to more quickly upskill and transition people into the technology workforce in Australia,”

explains Beth Worrall, National Skills Program Lead at Microsoft Australia.

The Program is growing quickly with 140 trainees across more than 60 host organisations in 6 cities. But with 15,000 applications and 200 participants looking for placements in 2021, there is a pressing need for more host organisations.

“It’s about social outcomes, as much as business ones,” says Beth, “and it’s a great way for us to work with our partner and customer ecosystem. Ultimately the Microsoft Traineeship Program is open to any organisation with an IT department looking for a practical way to take action to help the country recover, and broaden and diversify their own talent pool.”

Chris, Monika, and Rey have each discovered that closing a skills gap opens new doors. They are all well on their way to an exciting new career in IT with a supportive network, and the confidence that comes from learning that a life changing opportunity is more than it seems on the surface.

Learn more

Interested in applying to the Microsoft Traineeship Program? Learn more https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/microsoft-traineeship-program