You might be thinking the Turnbull government’s 457 visa changes are just a massive kick in the pants. I think they’re the kick in the pants we all needed.

As the child of immigrants and the wife of a CMO who came here on a 457 visa, I don’t believe restricting immigration is the right choice.

But our nation has a dire digital skills gap.

If Australia wants any hope of keeping up with the rapid changes in technology to become a major player on the world stage, we need to face up to the reality.

Research my agency ntegrity  recently commissioned into the digital cultures of Australian businesses identified that companies found it hard to find digitally skilled people. 70% of staff had no formal training in digital marketing, learning everything on the job. Only half of them felt confident in their digital skills, compared with 80% of those who had received formal training.

Anecdotally, we continue to hear from both university staff, students and graduates that they received little to no digital training in their degree. Meanwhile, our research indicated that only 56%  of Australian companies allocate budget for digital training.

Until now, Australia has been plugging this gap by bringing skilled workers in from overseas.

So, what now?

We believe it’s high time that leaders took matters into their own hands. They must future-proof their companies, otherwise the Australian market risks being left behind in the wake of digitally-savvy overseas competitors.

Step one: invest in quality digital training

If Australia wants to become self-sufficient and develop home-grown digital specialists, companies must start investing in quality digital training for their staff.

Our research showed that 70% of respondents agreed ‘more digitally skilled people would mean better business results’, and 50% believed an investment in training would save the company money.

Training is an investment, but it is one that reaps significant rewards in the long-term. The government’s decision to replace the 457 visas with a training fund will help if some of this is channelled into quality digital training. However, experts and past research shows that employers are spending less on training because they can’t find quality training.

We do believe there are reputable programs out there (Google has just launched their online digital marketing course in Australia, General Assembly run 12-week programs, and at ntegrity we have  also launched our own ‘academy’). Sending staff on sponsorships overseas also works – it’s how I learnt forward-thinking digital skills that I have applied to all my work back in Australia. But training courses themselves and sponsorship aren’t the only ways to increase digital acumen: choosing the right agencies can also go a long way.

Step two: Seek agency expertise that increases your capabilities

Filling the skills shortage requires a hard look at your agency partners to see whether they are compounding the problem of dependency on foreign skilled workers.

Ask yourself: Do our agencies  increase our digital capabilities? Do they explain their decisions and results? Are our staff increasing in digital acumen as they work with agencies or do we simply rely on agencies to have the answers?

Pick an agency partner that seeks to increase your capability – rather than being dependant on them.

Having increased internal digital capabilities means you’re able to recognise wasteful tactics, and are more likely to make better, more successful and sustainable business choices.

Step three: Take a chance on young talent & train them up

Due to the significant skills shortage in Australia, my experience is that hiring Australian graduates and training them up is more efficient than searching for qualified staff in Australia. This requires a conscious decision to invest in their development – especially considering graduates are coming out of Australia’s most renowned universities with little to no digital skills.

At ntegrity, we run an annual internship program alongside RMIT, that sees new graduates dive head-first into digital marketing and be mentored by one of our digital strategists. It has produced some of our sharpest strategists to date, and our interns-turned-strategists are now heading up operations, social media and business development, with their success being recognised in leading industry awards.

Will you choose to see the silver lining?

The truth is, we currently need skilled overseas staff to fill the gap, but it’s not forward thinking to be relying on this as the only way to fuel digital growth. Brands must invest in increasing their own digital capabilities  if they want to be innovative and market-leading.

So, will you take this opportunity to start investing where it matters?

If you’re not sure where to start, our Australian Company Digital Confidence (ACDC) Report shares some of these insights and solutions in more detail.