The great disruptor

Australian Computer Society

By Alan Patterson, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Computer Society
Wednesday, 05 June, 2013

The great disruptor

Today, Australia is facing disruption on a number of fronts. Our resources boom is cycling down, equity is volatile and investment credit available to business is entering a new era of caution. Many eyes are looking to ICT even as technology itself continues to disrupt key areas of our lives such as health, retail, education, entertainment and even our sense of community and identity.

To paraphrase Mother Theresa, only people can achieve great things. To me this means the technological ‘power’ needed by Australia to meet the new challenges in the economy, environment and society is underpinned only by the power and performance of people; it is not technology itself that we need to focus on, but technology skills.

Australia’s digital economy is almost 8% of GDP. Not many people realise that this is more than many other industry verticals and almost as much as mining’s contribution. This makes the right policy focus on technology skills even more pressing.

Australian Computer Society research has illuminated a number of critical policy areas that are inhibiting - and indeed threatening - Australia’s digital economy. While the ACS is active as an organisation in working with policy makers to address these issues, as individuals working in the sector we all have a role to play where we can improve things.

Two of the critical issues I believe we can all help address are about skills supply and skills re-supply for our digital economy.

Today, the number of domestic students choosing ICT at university is less than half than a decade ago. Yet ICT employment grew by 100,000 in the same period. Without addressing this critical shortage of domestic supply, Australia’s digital economy will be at risk of greater offshoring.  Offshoring itself will create a brain drain as more ICT R&D is conducted offshore and university ICT departments shrink in line with dwindling student enrolments. We must attract more students to ICT and show that it is a rewarding and exciting career. Our own research showed wages in the sector rose above CPI last year; we know that technology underpins every other vertical and is increasingly dominant in entertainment, fashion and design.

There has also been a concerning decline in the interest of women in working in ICT. In the last year, female participation in the sector declined by 5%. Given that ICT has one of the lowest gender diversity rankings of any industry in Australia, this should especially alarm us. A recent university survey of women who dropped out of ICT courses said they did not feel the course was structured towards the reality of their lives. At the same time, older workers of both genders are finding it hard to access retraining that will improve their employability in a dynamic and shifting market.

Individually, as technology professionals, we need to address these challenges now. One simple way we can each do this is to look for and encourage success stories and tell them to the world.

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