A combination of under-qualified university graduates and aged workers with outdated skills are exacerbating a shortage of experienced information technology professionals in Australia, with experts warning shortages could spread in the years to come.
Technology companies have disputed government statistics that suggest there is no shortage in the industry, with concerns mounting that a 36 per cent decline in undergraduate students taking up computer science degrees since 2001 could see the situation worsen.
“There’s both a skills shortage and a skills glut simultaneously,” said Simon Kaplan, director of skills and industry transformation at National ICT Australia.
“We’ve seen a big shift from the massive, back-end enterprise systems that dominated IT in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, to a much more fluid and fast-moving kind of technology that uses different kinds of techniques and tools.
“There are lots of people who have worked in these mammoth teams who have lost their work and are lost, they don’t know how to re-engage in the world that’s changed.”
At the same time, students graduating with computer science degrees found it difficult to find jobs in their field of study due to lack of practical experience.
Research body Graduate Careers Australia suggested those who had graduated with bachelor’s degrees in computer science during 2013 were less likely than average to have found full-time careers in IT. “A lot of the entry-level IT jobs that people typically would have done 10 years ago such as help desk or first-level support have been off-shored,” said Peter Acheson, chief executive of recruitment firm Peoplebank.
“[Students] will need to do some re-training or up-skilling in their first six months out of uni so companies are able to take someone on knowing they haven’t quite got the skills they’re looking for, but are willing to make the investment in upskilling or additional education to get them to be at the skill level they’re required to be.”
Mr Acheson said weak economic growth had served to stave off an industry-wide shortage of skills, with advertisements for permanent IT jobs down 10 per cent on May last year. But companies seeking specialist skills, particularly in online development, were finding it more difficult to find adequate employees. “Some organisations have been going to people in the business and asking them to run IT projects,” he said.
Despite official statistics suggesting there is no skills shortage in the information technology industry, key figures including Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie have disputed the figures as not aligning with industry experience. Mr Kaplan argued the wrong definitions were being used to measure IT jobs and companies, making it difficult to clearly determine whether or not a skills shortage actually exists.
“There is no IT set of job classifications and no IT set of company classifications in the system, because the system is probably 30 years out of date in the way it classifies companies and jobs,” he said. “We’re running at least 20 years behind the economies we see as our peers in terms of being able to track this properly.”
Serial entrepreneur Bowei Gai who is writing a global report on start-up ecosystems, said it was important Australia reformed its immigration policy to ensure any skills shortages could be filled by migrants. “The reason Silicon Valley is great is because they told a fairytale that attracted so many people to come from all over the world; more than half of Silicon Valley are foreigners,” he said. “The next 10-year [period] will be one of entrepreneurial mobility, and if that’s the case, the country with the best immigration policy is going to benefit most out of this.”