ICT economy booming but where's the talent?

ICT economy booming but where's the talent?

Forget mining, ICT a major contributor to productivity

Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, has boldly declared that Australia is in the middle of an ICT boom with technology a major contributor to the country's economic prosperity.

But putting a dampener on the good times is an ICT skills shortage, a problem that Nairn said has to be addressed as it is vital for Australia's future economic well-being.

"We often hear of the mining boom as playing a role in Australia's strong economy we enjoy today. I put to you that we are also experiencing an ICT boom," he said yesterday.

"ICT has contributed to between 50 and 80 per cent of productivity growth in Australia's services and manufacturing sector over the past 20 years."

But, Nairn added, the government must continue working with industry leaders on initiatives to increase the talent pool.

For example, the government is providing support for Dell Australia's Women in Information Technology Mentoring programme.

Nairn also acknowledged the importance of addressing the skills shortage at the tertiary education level.

But he also stressed that interest in maths and technology subjects has declined among high-schoolers as well, and stressed this situation needs equal attention.

"Perhaps there is a need for an earlier change of focus at the high school level to ensure that students are attracted to - and retain their interest in - mathematics, science and information technology subjects," he said.

"We need to make science and technology sexy again!"

A major challenge for governments, industry heads and educational institutions alike is quelling people's doubts about the degree of job-security an ICT career offers, Nairn said.

According to Nairn these doubts are fuelled by increasing publicity about outsourcing in the industry and lingering memories of the dot com crash.

"Governments, business, industry organisations, and educational institutions need to continue to work together to dispel these myths and to promote careers in ICT," he said.

Speaking at the GovTech 2007 Summit in Canberra, Nairn acknowledged that the Australian public service is suffering the effects of the skills shortage.

"The ageing workforce, coupled with the need for an increasingly skilled worker and areas of specific skill shortage, [are] major challenges facing the Australian public service," he said.

"The government sector needs to continue to attract, develop and retain cutting-edge ICT skills."

Nairn said the federal government has introduced an ICT apprenticeship program to help fill the gap in qualified staff.

In fact, the work climate for ICT professionals is so good that very few want to actually be on a company's full-time payroll with IT contracting continuing to rise.

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