Westpac chief information officer Clive Whincup has urged the IT industry to recruit graduates collaboratively, instead of competitively, to boost interest in the sector.
Addressing a CEDA conference on Wednesday, Whincup said Australian organisations faced a worsening IT skills shortage despite moves to outsource and offshore roles in recent years.
“We will never produce enough people to fulfil our own internal demand,” he said. “A direct consequence of that is that we will tap into global supply chains.
“But that is a long way from saying that there will no longer be a large number of technology professionals in Australia employed by a company like Westpac.”
In March, Westpac offshored 119 technology jobs as the bank restructured its outsourcing arrangements with Infosys, TCS, IBM and Wipro.
But Whincup refuted the perception that “all our future needs can be met through that [offshoring] channel”, noting that high-skilled technology roles would remain onshore.
“Financial institutions are very heavily technology-dependent,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to conceive of any change in process or service that does not involve a technology investment.
“The fact is, we need increasing numbers of Australia-based technologists who will focus more on the higher end of technology production chains.
“[Local roles will] be far more involved in the production of intellectual property than the less highly skilled functions which tend to be those that require larger amounts of people to undertake.”
Cooperating to build graduate skills
Whincup, a “champion” of Australia’s National ICT Careers Week, warned that prospective workers may be daunted by the scarcity of entry-level roles in Australia’s increasingly top-heavy IT industry.
“According to official figures, the number of university entrants enrolling in technology-related [courses] nationally has halved over the past ten years,” he noted.
“It strikes me as paradoxical that in an age where we speak increasingly of a digitised economy and the ubiquity of technology that fewer and fewer young Australians are attracted to pursue careers in the industry.”
While he backed Westpac’s ‘best sourcing’ strategy, Whincup noted that outsourcing drives should not take place to the “detriment of our local-grown technology workforce”.
He urged Westpac suppliers and the industry to collaborate on recruiting entry-level staff and providing opportunities for them to develop core IT skills like coding and testing in the first five years of their careers.
“Technology suppliers have a duty to be sponsoring various programs in universities, but I think we can do more jointly,” he said.
“I’d encourage much more collaboration in managing things like graduate programs and intake for that, so that we take competition away from the early stages of a career.
“Everybody will always compete to attract the best people into their organisation, but … we have to look on this as more of a national issue and industry issue than a competitive issue.
“If we don’t attract sufficient numbers of people at the lower end, we will ultimately end up competing for an ever-diminishing workforce of highly skilled people.”
Whincup declined to comment on how such a skills shortage may affect IT salaries, noting that “demand and supply is [only] one of the things that determines the price”.
He noted that Westpac had “quite an extensive grad program” that provided recruits with coaching and mentoring from the bank’s senior technology staff.
IT qualifications not required
Whincup said Westpac strived for diversity within its IT team, which had “over 90 clearly identified, different skill sets”.
Last July, Westpac’s general manager of commercial and technology Elizabeth Henderson revealed that it had established a team of commerce, legal and finance experts to manage its IT outsourcing contracts.
The team took over responsibility for those contracts from Westpac’s chief technology officer late last year.
“Technology is a very broad-brush term,” Whincup said this week. “Almost any qualification can be used in a technology environment.
“I don’t believe that the only way to get into technology is to have a degree for it. Many, many people have come into technology through psychology [or] business studies.
“One of the core strengths of any workforce is diversity … the more varied the approach is to any problem set, the more likely you are to come up with an innovative answer,” he said.
“We’re looking for people to develop a very, very broad range of skills ... I always challenge my leaders to grow and develop diverse teams.”