Lack of uni IT places exacerbates skills shortages

Lack of uni IT places exacerbates skills shortages

A lack of places for potential IT students in universities and TAFEs across the country has undermined the Australian Information Industry Association's (AIIA) education campaign to encourage students into the IT industry.

Universities are reporting on average only one place for every three applicants and in an industry that the AIIA's corporate manager Michael Hedley estimates consists of 60 per cent graduates, that ratio is going to exacerbate the dearth of skills available in the IT industry. "Australia's IT industry includes about 170,000 people overall -- of those 90,000 are graduates," expands Hedley.

The skills shortage problem is not only one of attracting people to the IT industry or retaining already skilled up employees but training them in the first place.

"School leavers already recognise the advantages the IT&T industry can offer, including good money, exciting prospects and international scope." Australia now needs to develop the infrastructure to take advantage of this burgeoning eagerness.

At present the educational prospects of an IT worker are fraught with difficulties.

"The IT industry has 3 month deadlines that clash with a university's three-year deadlines. This makes for arguments about the curriculum not changing fast enough and being structurally rigid. Computer Science programs are more expensive than a lot of others. It is also problematic dealing with 36 independent universities and their zealously guarded autonomy from government and outside influence," claims Hedley.

However, "the Federal Government is beginning to react to this", explains Hedley, "and more is done through federal grants than industry scholarships. The industry does contribute in establishing a university curriculum and they often provide technical advice, services and discounted products."

However according to EDS's human resource manager, Brain Connell the industry will need to accelerate its contribution. "The IT industry won't close down its skill shortage over the next 10 years," he prophesied, especially at the rate the industry is addressing the problem. "Universities need more funding for technical education because it is becoming more a part of everyday life, it is not just about corporate mentalities any more. The IT industry has a right and a responsibility to direct universities' curricula. To do that they need to look at their own human resources and start predicting years in advance the needs of the future," claims Connell.

Hedley maintains that the IT industry should become involved in the education of potential IT labour from the onset by "lobbying the Federal Government for increased funding and opening up channels of communication through bodies such as the Australian Vice Chancellery Commission." A dramatic increase in industry sponsorship would be a catalyst for an increasingly skilled IT workforce. "If we have a growing, dynamic, viable industry people will come to us," claims Hedley. "Our industry is a great finishing school for graduates and it gives students a lot of responsibility and diversity very quickly. We just need to get them to this stage in the first place."

According to Hedley, IT industry support currently stands at about 100 scholarships across five universities. Connell stresses that it should be more. "Corporations need to put as much resource into training and development as possible," he claims. Up until now "there has been a lack of planning from corporations who look at resources with too narrow a focus." EDS are practising what they preach with the establishment of an Asia-Pacific training centre in Adelaide with the co-operation of the South Australian Government. "It is aimed at new students, people needing more training who are already in the industry and those with work and life experience that want to join the industry," explains Connell. "Technology is not just programming any more. It is now about general management." Connell cautions other educational institutions about focusing solely on technical skills. "This type of education won't be satisfying demand. IT training needs to have a business element to it."

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