Skills shortage cuts deep in govt IT shops

It’s official: Australia’s skills shortage is back with ITmanagers confirming they are working longer hours and struggling toretain staff.

While the impact is only starting to emerge in some states, thenation’s capital, Canberra, is being hit the hardest.

Brynten Taylor, technical services director at the Department ofEmployment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), said every federalgovernment department with a substantial IT shop is suffering froma skills shortage. Taylor said his team of 40 people could easilybe 10 to 20 percent larger “just to handle the work we have at themoment.”

“Another four to five would go down well,” Taylor said. “We dohave to advertise but we’d listen to anyone who is knocking on thedoor as we have vacancies all the time and it’s just a case ofre-advertising.”

Although DEWR is not slowing down projects as a result of thelabor shortage, current staff are working harder and longer to getprojects done which is “increasing stress levels.”

He admits some agencies are being forced to outsource.”Canberrais a small town and the IT community is small, so the supply isn’tincreasing dramatically. Many rob Peter to give to Paul,” Taylorsaid. “When DEWR advertises a position if it can pick up one or twopeople “that’s been good.”

“There doesn’t seem to be that many people coming into IT, andno, it’s not just about enough people.”We’re focusing on growingour own — but when you skill them up you have a retention issue.Over the last couple of years it seems to have worsened a bit andwe haven’t seen any improvement yet.”

The department’s skills problem forced it to open an office inSydney where the branch head of application development, Mark Webb,has hired around 150 staff for application development. Webb saidthere is probably a 10 per cent shortfall in necessary IT staff,but it varies across skill sets, geographies, and experience.

“I’ve not had any trouble attracting new graduates but at themore experienced end of market it’s more competitive,” Webbsaid.

Finding suitable talent has also been a problem for SBSinformation systems manager Greg Koen, who recently sifted throughmore than 100 applications in six months to find the right personto fill a network security position.

“I had to replace someone who was here nine years and it’s toughto get hold of someone good at Unix and networking,” Koen said.”Networking, to a lot of people, means hooking Windows PCstogether, but someone with deep knowledge of TCP/IP is a rarecommodity.”

With more than 100 applicants for the job, Koen narrowed thelist down to only three, because “I met some very ambitious peoplerather blind to their own abilities.”

“The skills shortage also happens when you try a one-for-one fitfor a long-standing member of a team — that’s tough,” he said.”I’m not sure what the light at the end of the tunnel is. Therewill be quite a generational change where more intellectualproperty will be embedded into devices and the gap between peoplewith technology skills will broaden.”

IT departments struggle to increase headcount

While not suffering a skills shortage himself Geoff Lazberger,Stella Resorts Group CIO, said it is “obvious” there is a skillsshortage resulting from a combination of outsourcing and thesubsequent loss of skills.

“CIOs are having trouble finding people, and it’s not just ITskills, but people with business backgrounds,” he said. “It’s notjust IT people for IT’s sake, but people who can commercializeprojects.”

Lazberger said there is a general lack of skills and experienceand “the second is more important than the first.”

“The effect of the skills shortage depends on the businessrequirements and what their needs are e- from networkadministration to database development to project management,” hesaid.

“I don’t think there is any relevance to size, because there isno formula for how big your IT shop should be,” Lazberger said.

According to the 2006 State of the CIO Survey, which interviewed275 local CIOs, IT departments are buried under the weight of abacklog of requests.

Compiled by Computerworld’s sister publication, CIO magazine,the survey found 37 per cent of respondents plan to increaseheadcount over the next 12 months; while 59 per cent expect nochange, a paltry 4 per cent will reduce staff.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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