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Australia - IT industry facing skills crisis

30 December 2013

Despite efforts to meet falling demand, the Australian information technology sector is experiencing a costly skills crisis and needs to bridge the gap by hiring IT graduates for major projects. The IT sector which contributes about AUD 42 billion (USD 37 billion) to the nation's economy every year, is expected to generate over 21,000 new IT jobs in next three years.

The sector has been facing a crisis to meet the growing demand of skills. Australian government at both federal and state level has been spending millions to probe ways to fill thousands of empty jobs.

According to IT workers, government money would be better spent hiring graduates for big projects so they can get valuable on-the-job experience.

"The decline in manufacturing and the end of the mining boom suggests that Australia needs to find its competitive strength," Chris Walton of Professionals Australia, the union representing IT workers, was quoted saying an ABC report. “And the fact is IT is essential to innovation and productivity," he said.

In a study report earlier this year, Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) also indicated the changes needed to fix the problem.

"Around 45% of small businesses don't yet have an online presence, and in the future that's going to be absolutely critical," study chairwoman Marie Persson said adding, "The whole global economy is happening, but possibly business is not quite realising how quickly."

Walton said that even the companies building an online presence and updating equipment will not hire inexperienced workers. He urged the federal government to bridge the gap by hiring IT graduates for major projects.

"We've got this vicious cycle where companies only want experienced people, and headhunt from each other, pushing up wage rates, but aren't doing the development of the new graduates," Walton said.

"So we need to break that circuit and the only way we can see is for government, through its procurement, to require grad programs to be part of the procurement tender," he said.

Due to the nature of the IT industry, Australian companies often find the skills they need for a lower price by sending work offshore.

The AWPA acknowledges that it is a risk to local jobs. Persson says state and federal governments are trying to build an IT workforce that can compete on a global scale, but she wants Australia to take some tips from places like the UK.

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