The scholarship arm of the Australian Computer Society, the ACS Foundation, this morning announced that it had awarded more than 430 scholarships worth $4.4 million during financial year 2007 - its highest year since it began promoting private and public sponsorship of ICT scholarships, higher education and research projects in 2001.
The announcement follows the conclusion of National ICT Careers Week, an ACS and AIIA initiative to showcase the wide array of ICT careers available to young people that took place around the country last week.
NSW was the top state with more than 300 scholarships worth over $2 million awarded, while Victoria gained 76 scholarship worth just under $2 million and Western Australia 25 scholarships at $200,000.
According to the Foundation, the majority were Work Integrated Learning scholarships that provide students with a period of relevant work experience to their academic studies, and the theory and practical elements necessary to succeed in the workforce, and later in their career.
ACS Foundation chairman, John Debrincat, said the scholarships are helping to address the severe skills shortages in Australia's ICT industry by providing students and universities with the funds to nurture IT talent.
"With 2008 closing out on two record months in May and June, we're hoping the next financial year will continue to prosper and address the skills crisis. The ACS Foundation would like to reach a $5 million target for scholarships awarded in 2008 financial year, and we certainly came close in 2007," he said.
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, warned that Australia is facing a widening gap between supply and demand of qualified ICT workers.
"Encouraging students to consider a career in ICT will help ensure that Australia produces a well-educated workforce and researchers who will generate and sustain economic growth and innovation," he said.
But ICT qualifications alone aren't enough, according to ACS Foundation executive director, John Ridge, who said one of the biggest obstacles students face in gaining a scholarship is industry experience and communication skills, not their academic performance. He said 50 out of 60 recent scholarship applicants were rejected due to poor communication skills.
"Companies these days are seeking employees who can bring more than IT to the company. They are looking for employees who can communicate their passion for IT and who have a deeper level of understanding of strategic business decisions," Ridge said.
The ACS Foundation partners with 32 out of 39 major Australian universities to provide its scholarships through funds raised by the Foundation as well as industry and government donors.
Since its inception in 2001 the Foundation has awarded over 1,200 scholarships and research projects worth more than $17.4 million.