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IT industry faces recurring skills shortage

The Australian IT industry continues to face a skills shortage despite a sustained drop in the jobs market and the axing of hundreds of employees by multinational and local companies.

The Australian IT industry continues to face a skills shortage despite a sustained drop in the jobs market and the axing of hundreds of employees by multinational and local companies.

Industry representative bodies, IT recruitment firms and integrators have also expressed concerns the nation will not be able to supply enough skilled ICT workers once an economic rebound is realised.

The IT job market continued its horror slide in April, with Internet adds falling 7.44 per cent to reach a 12-month crash of 56.05 per cent. The Olivier Job Index also shows job ads across the economy fell 7.43 per cent for a 12-month drop of 49.84. Olivier Group director, Robert Olivier, said that while the rate of decline had fallen – in March the IT job market fell 15 per cent – there was no reason to expect a quick recovery.

“The interesting thing is of that 56 per cent, 44.46 was in the last six months,” he said.

The latest results reflect Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) jobless figures announced in March, which rose 0.4 per cent from 4.8 to 5.2 per cent. Several companies – including HP, Sun Microsystems, Dell, IBM, Telstra, and CA – have cut staff in recent months. Managing director of A/NZ integrator Datacom,

Michael Browne, said the economic downturn, combined with these industry-wide job cuts, helped ease skills shortages in the short-term.

“We’re certainly seeing an availability of skills freeing up. In Canberra, for example, we have secured a large new client and are recruiting people with a lot of success,” he said. “Even in our application development group, where we are picking up business despite the conditions, we’re getting people.”

Browne claimed the merger of HP and EDS, along with Sun’s recent staff cuts, was releasing higher calibre people into the market.

“I also think the break-up of the Group 8 contracts is bringing people into the market who wouldn’t otherwise be available,” he said.

Data#3 general manager, Laurence Baynham, hadn’t heard the term “skills shortage” for some time, but said high-end and specialist skills, such as applications development and SAP, were still in demand.

While agreeing the downturn eased the skills shortage situation, ASG managing director, Geoff Lewis, said the ASX-listed services provider continued to source IT skills from offshore, particularly around middleware, operating systems and database management.

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“In the medium term, there definitely is still a skills shortage,” he said. “The market won’t stay like this forever – when things do turn around, we’ll be scrambling for people. Right now, there are more people available, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s not a long-term thing. With the pervasive way computing and technology is now invading our lives, more and more are going to be needed.”

Lewis pointed out university numbers for computer science enrolments had continued to decline since the dot-com crash. “If we don’t get the young people going into computing and technology jobs, because they don’t see it as an area of opportunity, we have to get the skills from somewhere,” he said.

Last week, ICT recruitment firm, Peoplebank, signed an On-Hire Labour Agreement with the Federal Government, giving it a streamlined process for hiring international contractors under the 457 visa program.

COO, Peter Acheson, said it expected to bring in 150-200 staff a year for specifi c projects to cover skill shortages in areas like SAP, .NET, J2EE and business analysis. However, he warned the industry would be plunged back into a dire skills shortage if the economy turns around.

“The truth is, given the increasing importance of IT as core to every business process there is, if the market picks up and if it were to pick up quickly, and I am not saying it will, we would be back in a skills-short market for IT people very quickly,” he said. Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO,

Ian Birks, said it was important not to take a protectionist approach against importing overseas talent to help deal with Australia’s skill shortage. He also called for the Government to ensure ICT skills are given a high priority in the coming budget.

“I think the fundamental point is as soon as we start to come out of the global fi nancial crisis, the core issues… will come back to haunt us. The issue is so signifi cant in that it impacts the productivity dividends the nation is looking for from IT, which ultimately affect the economic performance of the nation,” he said.