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Bridging the skills gap

Bridging the skills gap

This week's ARN is something of a themed issue, with a two-page interview and front-page analysis focusing on the industry skills shortage, so I'm using the editorial as an opportunity to get on the soapbox.

It's probably worth noting upfront that IT is not alone - with unemployment rates at their lowest for three decades, many industries are struggling to attract enough quality new professionals to keep running at full tilt. A national population of little more than 20 million people only magnifies that problem because there aren't really a lot of people to go around in the first place.

So what can be done? The long-term solution, as AIIA board members, Philip Cronin and Ian Birks, will argue, must be based on education. The bursting of the dotcom bubble had a negative impact on the perception of IT as a career and, although this year's university application and intake rates suggest this may finally have bottomed out, the initiatives of various industry bodies cannot be thought of as successful until those numbers start to rise again. To do that, IT needs to rediscover the cool factor associated with Internet millionaires and lose the geeky nerd image that proliferates among youngsters picking career paths.

More immediately, the IT industry has done a very good job of attracting smart operators from overseas. Whether they are young professionals looking for a spell overseas, or couples searching for a nice place to raise the kids, Australia is a popular destination. Lifestyle has certainly played a major part because, despite the current strength of the Aussie dollar, salaries don't translate very well if you've been earning British pounds or the greenback.

Anecdotal evidence from the IT Contractors and Recruitment Association suggests legislation introduced near the end of the Howard Government's final term has made it more difficult to bring these skilled migrants into the country on 457 business visas. If this proves to be true, you have to think the skills shortage is likely to get even worse before it gets better.

During the past couple of weeks I've been conducting skills shortage video interviews with a small number of vendors and integrators.

As you might expect, one of the topics for discussion was the contentious issue of vendors hiring from within their own channels. In an ideal world this wouldn't happen but it's a free market and nobody is suggesting people should have their feet nailed under the desk.

However, I strongly believe there should be a process for dealing with instances where it does happen. Keep an eye on our website and daily email services to see what our panelists think.


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