While some analysts suggest skill shortages are inherent in the dynamics of the IT industry, a recently established IT&T industry skills task force is taking its first concrete steps in a battle to ward off a "looming crisis".
Formulating several strategic initiatives, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Australian Telecommunications Industry Association (ATIA) and Telstra-coordinated task force last week announced it will ask its members for financial assistance in order to fund the industry-led education, employment and community awareness program aimed at solving the problem.
"The industry needs to do a few things," says Brian Donovan, a member of the task force work group.
"One, it needs to better define its needs. Two, it has to create a greater awareness of the IT&T sector's need for skilled people and three, it must find some practical ways of retraining people from other sectors and provide some initial practical training for school "leavers" and graduates joining the industry."
To do that, Donovan said IT companies will be asked to contribute between five to 10 thousand dollars each to help the task force to create the "virtual IT&T education marketplace" - a brokering online network where industry and education sectors would cooperate on identify-ing training needs and developing courses to provide the necessary skills to the industry. "Seed courses" for facilitating career transition into the IT&T industry and ongoing skills-in-demand surveys are also part of the plan that should be implemented over the next 12 months.
But to make a real impact, the task force will need to change the market culture embedded in the IT&T employment dynamics, which might prove to be a bigger obstacle than expected.
Ralph Saubern, business development manager at Melbourne-based Wiser Software, thinks part of the problem lies with the fact that the industry keeps moving at an extraordinarily fast pace.
Competitive and market-driven
"The IT & T industry is one of the most competitive and market-driven industries around and due to high levels of competition, companies have to compete for skilled people, which creates a volatile employment environment," Saubern said.
"People are moving too quickly and too easily between companies and jobs, which means that we are, through our work practices, training people not to complete projects and not to see things through. I wonder if a thing like virtual marketplace might create even more volatility."
Director of Brisbane software house SunData, Matthew Parker, takes the notion of market forces further, saying that, despite being a wonderful concept, the idea of "virtual IT&T education marketplace" will be difficult to manage in reality.
"It seems like a long-term solution, but the problem is that the industry is suffering from a long-term problem that involves an immediate need."
The real issue with investing into education and training for IT is that the market is so buoyant, Parker adds. "Nobody wants to put their dollars into training people because there is a great risk of losing those people. For example, you might spend $20,000 training someone for the job and then in 12 to 18 months they're off to greener pastures."
And while this "investment uncertainty" could impede the task force's virtual skills and training pool development, Donovan says the mood of the task force members indicated they were willing to participate.
Yet with analysts predicting the IT industry job market will grow 20 per cent this year, Ralph Saubern is sceptical about the role the program can play in solving the problem of skill shortages.
"How much more can you encourage people to go into training for this industry? There is already encouragement in constant media attention, for example, but you can't force people to do jobs they don't want to do."