Stop offshoring our ICT skill nurseries

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Stop offshoring our ICT skill nurseries

Opinion: Grassroots growth needed for innovative future.

Australian businesses that offshore "low value-add" IT jobs are depriving undergraduates of critical work experience, contributing to the country's long-term shortfall in expertise.

The precarious nature of our skills base has seen many organisations look offshore to place their development projects.

But “low value-add jobs” that previously represented the ‘nursery’ for graduates and gave them a foot in the door for an ICT career are more often the ones being sent overseas.

This is counterintuitive to building a strong domestic base of IT skills. The impacts are also evident when one examines enrolment and attrition rates among ICT students.

Since 2002 there has been a 40 percent decrease in the number of domestic students enrolling in ICT courses.

Currently, 43 percent of domestic students don't complete their ICT courses. Many drop out because they can’t see the relevance of what they are learning.

The situation is not improving.

For those who do graduate, they find it difficult to get their first career step, often because they have no relevant industry experience.

We know from Australian Information Industry Association statistics that 70 percent of employers rate relevant work experience highly when looking to recruit new graduates.

A retention tactic must be to get a higher proportion of students into some sort of practical work experience during their training, to give them the impetus to not only finish but to then go on to careers in the ICT sector.

Like the medical and education faculties, this should be a compulsory element of all technology courses.

Thinking big

As Australia has no national tertiary curriculum, any change is piecemeal. Universities such as UTS and RMIT are excellent examples of what can be achieved when there is a deliberate focus by ICT faculties on preparing students for the real world.

But what holds Australia back, in so many examples, is our inability to act nationally; to undertake a collaborative, single approach for more responsive, cost effective resolutions to economic and social problems.

We need a concerted, national approach to address this complex chicken and egg situation: to attract talented students we need a strong local sector that will provide them with a lifelong career path that will in turn build our resource capacity.

We need to promote the opportunities available in the sector.

From their limited perspective, graduates naturally focus their sights on careers in the larger, more recognisable ICT vendors.

Beyond this narrow band, there are vast opportunities in the 22,000 small to medium ICT businesses in Australia and the technical careers available outside our sector.

Sixty-six percent of the ICT professionals in this country are employed across the economy: in finance, manufacturing, health, government and education.

Government and politicians at all levels and of all persuasions also need to encourage and stimulate investment in the ICT sector.

We need to establish a large domestic industry with the aim of exporting ICT services. I believe our industry has a legitimate claim to a share of the windfall resources revenue to do so.

John Ridge AM is the executive director of the ACS Foundation, a non-profit organisation that facilitates public and private sponsorship of ICT higher education and research.

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