A ‘two-speed’ skills market
But even if the quality and quantity of graduates improved, employers conceded they wouldn’t be rushing to hire them.
“We don’t tend to recruit graduates or overseas students [at ASG],” Van Vuuren said. “We are seeking highly skilled IT practitioners."
Dr Nick Lewins, chief technology officer at BankWest said the competitive pressure mounted by the resources boom had created a “two-speed market for IT qualified people”.
Lower-tier service desk roles at many organisations are being outsourced – often offshored – to reduce the cost of service delivery. Scott noted that it was a “sad fact that Perth is a high cost location because of the resources boom. Other sectors have had to look for alternative solutions like offshoring".
High-end project managers and IT architects, on the other hand, are simultaneously becoming “very hard to find”, Dr Lewins said.
BankWest “cherry picks” a small number of graduates with “aptitude on the soft-skills side”, but the real shortage is in finding experienced practitioners with “business acumen and capability to embed in a business and really make a big difference”, Dr Lewins said.
“That’s where we have seen a lot of pressure come on through the mining boom, with a lot of technology investments and expansion projects happening in mining that require those skills,” he said.
Dr Lewins noted that his team at BankWest is no longer called “IT” but “IT and change management”.
“We deliver business outcomes for front line business units and we look just as much at the people and process change as the technology,” he said.
Scott said Deloitte was “more excited by a graduate with an 80 percent average and work experience than a graduate with a 90 percent average.”
“It’s not like it used to be in the old days when you would take on a technical job and grow over many, many years on a path of technical skills before you grow into business skills,” Dr Lewins said.
“With the amount of outsourcing and offshoring going on, I wonder where is the breeding ground that will take the Uni grads give them the incubation and turn them into the high-end people that can deliver outcomes for the business.”
A one-trick pony?
The danger for Western Australia is that relying too heavily on the resources sector to power its economy has made it far more difficult for other industries to compete for talent.
“When commodity prices fall to a certain level, projects stop,” Campbell said. “It would be a healthier market if we didn’t rely so much on the resources sector.”
The key for the rest of the market is to find ways to attract skilled staff – differentiating factors that don’t necessarily involve competing with the resources sector on salary.
“The resources sector isn’t for everyone,” Campbell said. “Industries have their own cultural values.”
Edith Cowan, for example, recently picked up a skilled ICT practitioner that accepted a drop in salary because the university is based in a more desirable area to live and work.
“He figured he would get a day of his life back every week,” Trinder noted. “Our attrition rate is losing no more than two people in any given year. That’s our big selling point.”
Dr Lewins said BankWest uses much the same formula.
“In a competitive pressure on the job market, you have to focus on your strengths,” he said.
“Our strengths are the development of long-term careers - of greater opportunities in the greater banking group. We focus on our work environment, on our high-tech workspace. You can come and work somewhere interesting, somewhere that makes a long-term investment in people.”