IT heads for talent shortfall

The Australian IT industry needs to stop digging its own grave and take a good hard look at itself to figure out what it wants — and start lobbying, according to Sensis Chief Information Officer Len Carver.

The warning comes against the backdrop of what Carver says is a looming IT talent shortage over the next two to three years in Australia, caused by a drop off in IT-related university enrolments due to negative publicity surrounding job prospects.

While declining to name specific publications, Carver said a mainstream media fixation on IT jobs drying up and being offshored had created a bad impression among concerned parents, who had steered their progeny away from IT to other courses.

“It’s like, bang, you see the publicity and then the course enrolments drop off (just when) we will need those (sorts of high end skills in two to three years). The last thing we want to do in this country is create a supply chain problem (for high-end ICT skills). You want to have that (talent) available,” Carver said.

The Sensis CIO noted that when the local skill base dried up, labour was either imported or forced offshore in a seller’s market and added cost to the enterprise bottom line.

“It happened in the nineties and it’s happening again. When you beat up the IT industry, you create a skills gap. We know that university enrolments are down. We, as industry leaders should try to reverse that. If we are going to grow (the Australian) computer industry, you have to focus on youth,” he said.

Carver said that Sensis, a division of Telstra, was now in the process of building up its high-end IT personnel, and had just acquired 15 “first rate” IT staff from search provider LookSmart.

“We’re just lucky that those people are here. It is luck. If you look around (at that calibre of talent) you see Australians popping up in senior positions all over the world.”

Part of the solution, Carver says, should be an investment in tracking trends and building up a picture by the local IT industry — including forward-looking strategies, policy lobbying and positive profiling.

“If you look at professions like accounting, they invest very heavily in promoting their industry — including recruitment and industry strategy,” Carver said.

Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla said Carver’s assertion, that an IT skills shortage is in the pipeline, was on the money. “I absolutely agree. Business is looking up if you talk to the vendors. My frustration is (the IT) industry is good at shooting from the hip with positions — but you win the hearts and minds of the public and politicians in their own language,” Mandla said.

Carver’s sentiments echo those expressed by Toshiba ISD Australia’s general manager Ralph Stadus who this month warned, at a vendor round table hosted by Kate Lundy, that the national interest would be damaged if Australia lost the capacity to develop its own ICT.

“We (Toshiba ISD), in research and development, are developing print and font drivers in Linux. Those skills don’t exist here. There is a very serious long-term strategic risk that we (may lose) a competent IT sector in Australia,” Stadus said.

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