Australia has nothing to fear from off-shoring: expert

Australia is up to the off-shoring challenge, according to international software expert Dr Philip Lehman, despite statistics from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) predicting a loss of 4,000 ICT jobs by 2009.Lehman told an Adelaide workshop today Australia had the "educational infrastructure" to compete with other nations in attracting technology jobs, as Australian IT professionals offer "value rather than cost".

Australia is up to the off-shoring challenge, according to international software expert Dr Philip Lehman, despite statistics from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) predicting a loss of 4,000 ICT jobs by 2009.

Lehman told an Adelaide workshop today Australia had the "educational infrastructure" to compete with other nations in attracting technology jobs, as Australian IT professionals offer "value rather than cost".

"Australia can win business from overseas by building the skills to attract high value work globally while its own low-value, high routine IT jobs may go offshore," he said. "If Australia can maintain its educational advantage, it will continue to win in the long run."

The term "off-shoring" refers to the practice of organisations sending software programming projects to overseas companies, often in low-wage economies such as India, to reduce costs. The practice has become increasingly popular with large organisations in recent years.

However, according to Olivier's Internet Job Index, released yesterday, the number of jobs in the lower end of the IT pay-scale -- those typically viewed as vulnerable to offshoring -- is actually increasing.

Director, Bob Olivier said that the 20 per cent increase in "desktop support and helpdesk" and "system administration and support" employment sectors showed that Australia was in no danger of losing basic IT employment to off-shoring.

He stated that "the catalyst for the growth in the IT sector has been at the lower end of the pay scale. And this flies in the face of ACS's big drama about off-shoring".

However ACS managing director, Edward Mandla, said "what we're talking about are the more highly skilled people, they are the ones losing jobs".

The issue of offshoring is particularly sensitive to ICT professionals in the current market, says the ACS. The body says the unemployment rate for ICT professionals is twice that of the national average.

The ACS reports that as many as 11,000 IT jobs may be lost to overseas workers in the next five years as off-shoring increases in popularity. ACS predicts Australia will receive an inflow of 7,000 off-shored jobs from overseas companies, resulting to a net loss of around 4,000 jobs.

Mandla predicts that the majority of job losses will be computer programming positions, which will "certainly impact" the Australian ICT industry.

"It's very hard to learn new skills for the ICT worker," said Mandla, adding that employees need to acquire "hot skills" to survive the off-shoring blow. He lists current "hot skills" as those related to security, open-source software, Linux and storage.

"We've been looking at managing the effects of off-shoring. I will always maintain that skills do get out of sync with the job market and you sometimes need to help the industry sync up," said Mandla. "ICT is a perfect example of this because there are not too many industries where you could be out of sync in three years."

Mandla says that Australia has a great capacity to benefit from an inflow of ICT jobs.

"We have a stable and supportive political environment, a highly skilled workforce, we are a cost effective nation in terms of labour and have a high standard of living, so we're an attractive opportunity for countries to do business here," said Mandla.

Australian ICT workers are skilled in high-end technology, according to Mandla, as he says "our designing and managing skills makes us very attractive to overseas companies".

Lehman says Australia should not "attempt to legislate against IT projects going overseas", as he said efforts to do so will most likely be futile.

"A more practical option is to equip Australian students with globally relevant high-value skills that put them at the forefront in the market for IT resources" said Lehman.

The ACS also agrees that Australia should not try to legislate against off-shoring, as Mandla says it may inhibit any long term benefits.

"In the short term legislation would save jobs, but in the long term you create an inefficient industry," said Mandla. "It's all about growing the pie and ICT is in such a position that it requires an increasing part of the pie."

Mandla says that the ACS is trying to create a "soft landing" for workers shunted by off-shoring through more education and skills attainment.

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