ICT continues to struggle with skills supply and demand

The ICT industry's lack of ability to present itself as a profession is exacerbating the skills shortage

The lack of ability to properly promote the ICT as profession in its own right is exacerbating Australia's long-running skills crisis, according to the Australian Computer Society (ACS).

Speaking at the Discover IT conference in Canberra yesterday, ACS CEO, Alan Patterson, said there is a great disparity between skills supply and demand in the industry, partly due to ICT being ineffectively promoted as a sector in its own right.

“ACS research has looked carefully at Australia’s ICT skills demands and unless Australia tips into a recession, it is estimated that at least 14,000 new ICT jobs will be created during 2012 and at least an additional 21,000 through 2013, but we as a nation are struggling to find the skilled people to fill them,” he said.

To overcome the skills shortage, the government needs to remove the barriers to entry of skilled workers coming to Australia, Patterson said, and to focus more on the role education plays.

“Our own statistical research shows that university enrolments in ICT are currently less than half of what they were a decade ago, and as a percentage of the total student body, are continuing to decline,” Patterson said at the conference.

The industry is also facing an ageing workforce, he said, and poor representation of women in ICT.

Peter Noblet, senior regional director of Hays Information Technology in Asia Pacific, told Computerworld Australia the sector will experience shortages in the dot NET skillset, information management, SharePoint and growing requirements for big picture data warehousing and business intelligence. There will also be growing shortages in areas such as virtualization and the Cloud as those sectors expand.

“With that comes a fairly hefty technical requirement within security and some security layers at the top level. We’re also, within that infrastructure space, seeing requirements coming through in the telecommunications area,” Noblet said.

Geographically, the resources boom in Queensland and Western Australia will continue to see investment in IT infrastructure. However, Noblet said although New South Wales and Victoria are witnessing a strong job flow, the states are not experiencing the skills shortage as much as Western Australia and Queensland.

To deal with the skills shortage, Noblet said companies will continue to employ similar strategies to recruit and retain staff — offering quality projects and work, and placing an emphasis on work/life balance — while some companies will look to offer more lucrative salaries. However, he said one of the only short-term solutions to the skills shortage will be to bring in staff from overseas.

Figures from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship show that the 457 visas, which are used by companies to bring in staff from overseas, increased by 37.1 per cent in information media and telecommunications from July 2011 to December 2011.

“We’ve seen, certainly in places like Western Australia and into Queensland, a bit more of an acceptance of employers to look at people from overseas ... Also, we’re certainly seeing a stream of people coming from Europe and the UK where obviously the markets aren’t as good at the moment. Coming to Australia right now is a good proposition for a lot of people,” Noblet said.

However, Patterson told the conference that data from ACS reveals a 25 per cent drop in temporary overseas ICT migrants. Noblet concedes many companies are still reluctant to bring in staff from overseas due to the challenges, such as recruiting staff without face-to-face interviews and potential cultural issues.

“I think there’s probably other ways [of filling the skills shortage] and I certainly think training and recruiting on attributes rather than an aptitude and pure skills is going to be the way to look at it and investing in that,” he said.

“But I think a lot of organisations want people to hit the ground running straight away, and certainly the small and medium businesses don’t have the time or maybe the expertise to train people up in that way. So, there’s always going to be a shortage and I think bringing people in from overseas, certainly in the short-term, is a good thing because those people bring expertise in certain areas.”

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @steph_idg

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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