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Does Australia really have an ICT skills shortage?

Information Technology Professionals Association (ITPA)

By Sean Bates, ITPA
Wednesday, 04 December, 2019

Does Australia really have an ICT skills shortage?

There appears to be a somewhat schizophrenic collective opinion when it comes to Australian ICT skills. On one hand, we have reports that paint a negative picture in regards to the lack of adequately trained and skilled local (Australian) ICT workers. If those reports are to be believed, it would appear that Australia is lagging significantly behind the rest of the developed world in terms of critical IT skills (eg, cybersecurity).

On the other hand, we regularly see data that talk to the world standard of our university degrees and the high number of international students who are flocking to them, with IT and technology disciplines regularly being in high demand.

So which is it? As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Articles which rally behind the ‘lack of local skills’ mantra should be approached with a healthy dose of scepticism. Multinational corporations are always looking for ways of maximising profits, and reducing labour costs is one obvious way to achieve this. Are we genuinely supposed to believe that it is an unrelated coincidence that recruiting international workers is significantly cheaper than their local equivalents?

Conversely, Australian universities are operating in an increasingly competitive market when compared to only a decade ago. Government funding is under continuous pressure and the nature of work (and required graduate outcomes) is changing rapidly. Furthermore, our universities are increasingly competing on a global stage for student enrolments, via online study options and the ever-growing importance of attracting international students to physical campuses. The race to increase student numbers is well and truly in full swing.

The common theme appears to be obvious — money. Multinational corporations are (by their nature) designed to maximise profits for their shareholders. Australian universities are today forced to operate much like any other business and do the same. Is there room for improvement in terms of Australia’s IT workforce? Always. Is it a dire situation that requires sourcing skills from overseas? Doubtful.

As IT professionals, I believe it is our duty to call attention to these types of issues and provide a balanced, moderate and sensible advocacy to policy and decision makers. We should be consistently striving for world-class education and training in IT (and in other areas), whilst also ensuring that Australian IT professionals are given the recognition that they deserve… and not become the victims of a cost-cutting exercise.

Sean Bates is a board member and Secretary of the ITPA and an IT industry specialist with a particular interest in cybersecurity and training.

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