Australia is grappling with an emerging geospatial technology skills gap. Similar to clean energy, construction and manufacturing, growth in the industry isn’t without friction, having the potential to disrupt daily lives and crucial emergency services that people depend on in their most vulnerable moments. 

Not unique to Australia, skills gaps should be anticipated globally as the technology sector's continued transformation shows no signs of slowing down. A 2024 U.S.-based report by Springboard found that 70% of corporate leaders report a critical skills gap in their organisation, with 73% of tech leaders believing this negatively impacts business performance.

As the world and its challenges become more intricate, new tools and methodologies are emerging. These advancements (and transformations) demand updated skills in addition to traditional roles like spatial analysis, remote sensing and geospatial data science. Even non-traditional GIS markets such as insurers, banks, real estate and retailers recognise the value of geospatial data and its unique perspective. The growing demand for spatial skills is straining the already limited supply of GIS professionals

Mapping the misalignment 

The GIS field requires professionals with highly specialised skills, each requiring substantial effort on behalf of the individual and the employer to reach proficiency. The GIS professional of today, and into the future, will require skills that are crucial for handling and manipulating geospatial data to derive intelligence, code and develop applications and integration with AI and other systems.  

GIS is not a set-and-forget role: it's a lifetime of learning, which can often be challenging for organisations without a clearly defined outcome and training pathway.

The courses pursued by individuals may not align with current or future industry requirements, creating a gap between what’s studied and what’s required. As a result, graduates and seasoned professionals alike may find themselves frustrated and disengaged, inadequately prepared for the challenges and expectations of the industries they operate within.

The global Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills shortage further exacerbates the high demand for GIS professionals, and when you consider the reduced pool of women in this sector, the statistics are damming.


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The strategic risk of the GIS skills shortage

Estimating the economic value at risk from the geospatial skills gap is difficult. Still, a recent study by RMIT Online and Deloitte Access Economics, reveals that the digital skills gap is costing Australian businesses $3.1 billion annually. The ongoing skills shortfall in the surveying and geospatial field is forecast to reach 1,400 professionals nationally this year, with an increasing deficit out to 2029 affecting major projects nationwide.

Geospatial Council of Australia (GCA)'s Economic Impact of Geospatial Services in Australia report — due July 2024 — investigates the economic impact of geospatial services in Australia and explores opportunities for expanding its use.

The skills gap threatens GIS as a critical enabler within organisations

Understanding geospatial technology's pivotal role and future potential is paramount for executives and business leaders. When organisations have difficulty maintaining and supporting an effective GIS capability, it directly affects their ability to make timely and informed business decisions at scale.

This inability hampers operational efficiency, and a weakened GIS capability can lead to missed opportunities, inefficient resource allocation and a decline in competitive advantage.

Download your copy of Minimising Risk, Maximising ROI with Geospatial Technology: A Practical Guide for Senior Leaders

4 strategies for attracting, cultivating and retaining GIS talent

Government play a pivotal role in mitigating the GIS sector’s skills gaps across all levels. Their capacity to drive positive change is evident in successful initiatives for industries experiencing similar skills deficits, such as the Australian Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2023–2030 the industry-centric Jobs and Skills Councils and the Victorian Government’s Skills Solutions Partnerships.

Four things these initiatives have in common are: 

  1. Raising awareness: Both government and private industry are well-positioned to increase public awareness and positively shift demand in the geospatial industry and its diverse career opportunities through events, seminars and workshops. 

    Since 2017, Esri Australia's Education Program has grown significantly, evolving into a Science and Education Program in 2023 that aligns with universities, environmental education centres and citizen science projects. Recognised for its impact, the program, under the leadership of Jennah Williams (Science & Education Program Manager), has enrolled over 1,500 facilities by FY24, inspiring nearly 100,000 students, teachers, researchers and academics to adopt GIS technology.

  2. Targeted campaigns: By prioritising geospatial technology public sector projects, governments can showcase its practical applications, thereby stimulating interest in the field and encouraging more people to acquire GIS skills to supply a thriving market. The United Nations Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF) bolsters the use and sharing of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) internationally, fostering policy formulation, decision-making and innovation. By aligning with the IGIF, Australia leverages the latest geospatial trends, enhancing the understanding of GIS’s pivotal role in the global digital economy and national development.

  3. Investment in training: Investing in training programs and scholarships makes GIS education and training more accessible, leading to an increase in the number of skilled professionals in the field and a shift in supply to the market.

  4. Fostering industry collaboration: Governments can also foster industry collaboration by acting as a bridge between educational institutions and the geospatial industry, ensuring alignment between the skills taught and industry needs. This can involve facilitating partnerships, internships and job placement programs. 

While government initiatives are crucial, individual organisations also have a part to play with a range of proactive measures that tackle the skills gap.

9 initiatives to address the GIS skills gap in your organisation
  • Advocate professional development: Partner with local universities to offer GIS courses, or sponsor employees who wish to pursue further studies in GIS. Esri Australia offers industry-leading software to higher education institutes across Australia, access to Esri support services, unlimited access to Esri Academy e-Learning and discounted instructor-led training.
  • Cultivate an inclusive and diverse culture: Create programs, such as mentorship programs for underrepresented groups in GIS, to attract a wide range of talents and perspectives.
  • Offer internships, scholarships and awards: Establish GIS-focused internships and scholarships or create awards for innovative uses of GIS technology within the organisation. Esri Australia offers a range of programs including the Esri Young Scholar Award, offering one lucky university student, from across the country the opportunity to showcase their GIS project on the world stage. The Internship Program offers university students the chance to work hands-on with ArcGIS, contribute to actual projects and understand the impact of technology on the community.
  • Implement talent management initiatives: Use talent management software to track the progress and development of GIS professionals and identify potential leaders within the team and growth to organisational capital.
  • Upskill and reskill: Offer in-house training sessions or online courses on the latest GIS technologies and tools, helping employees stay up to date with industry trends.
  • Run employee engagement programs: Hold GIS-themed hackathons or ideation sessions, encouraging employees to showcase their GIS skills and come up with innovative solutions.
  • Offer competitive compensation packages: Benefits like flexible working hours, remote work options or education reimbursement can add to the attractiveness of packages to GIS professionals.
  • Invest in employer branding: Highlight GIS projects and successes on website and social media, showcasing commitment to using GIS as a strategic tool and attracting GIS professionals. Share case studies of how GIS teams have contributed to the organisation’s success.
  • Value: Actively work towards empowering staff to be engaged in meaningful and purpose-driven work.

While these initiatives provide a platform for aspiring GIS professionals to display their talent and contribute to the industry’s growth and innovation, implementation can be lengthy. In the face of a significant talent shortage, many companies are finding success with an alternative approach: Smart Outsourcing

Is ‘Smart Outsourcing’ the answer?

For businesses that have an Esri ArcGIS platform, a Managed Service model provides access to experienced GIS applications, data and IaaS experts. It removes the challenge and associated cost of attracting, hiring and retaining specialised talent. 

Organisations can bridge their skills gap by accessing a talent pool that exists beyond their company walls. This approach provides an immediate response to changing needs and demands in a flexible and scalable way without the commitment of long-term hiring or training processes.

Esri Australia’s managed service solutions are designed with this approach in mind, ensuring the services provided are directly tied to the results you want to achieve.

Smart outsourcing is a highly effective solution, enabling businesses to respond swiftly to evolving needs, streamline operations and optimise costs. While our current focus is essential, it is equally important to adopt a forward-thinking approach, one that builds sustainability for the future of Australia’s GIS industry.

Australia’s GIS future

Australia's geospatial skills gap is exacerbated by a misalignment between education and industry needs which poses both operational challenges and strategic risks.

Through targeted initiatives and strategies, talent can be attracted, cultivated and retained in the geospatial field. Government bodies, industry sectors and organisations all have a role to play. Smart outsourcing also offers an immediate and viable solution, providing access to a pool of highly experienced GIS professionals.

The GIS industry stands at a transformative crossroads. It’s crucial to shift the perception of GIS from a niche, technical-focused field to an essential, universally applicable skill set. By doing so, potential can be unlocked with opportunities to drive innovation, enhance decision-making and contribute to broader societal and economic benefits in unprecedented ways.

Contact the team to learn more about a Managed Services solution for your organisation. 

Key takeaways

  • The GIS skills gap is expected to cost Australian businesses an estimated $3.1 billion annually and could reach 1,400 professionals in 2024.
  • Targeted initiatives and strategies can help address the gap.
  • Smart outsourcing bridges the skills gap and allows organisations to focus on their core business.
  • Alternatives such as managed solutions provide access to a pool of highly experienced GIS professionals. 
  • Shifting the perception of GIS from a niche field to an essential skill set make attracting, cultivating and retaining talent easier. 


About the Author

Shane Miles profile image
Shane Miles
Senior Manager, Managed Services
Esri Australia, Brisbane
Shane Miles is Senior Manager Managed Services.

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