There is no IT skills shortage in Australia: CommBank CIO

There is no IT skills shortage in Australia: CommBank CIO

Summary: Not only is the IT skills shortage in Australia a myth, but the idea that organisations have to outsource IT jobs overseas is also a fallacy, according to CommBank CIO Michael Harte.

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Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte does not believe that there is an IT skills shortage crisis in Australia, and has shot down Westpac CIO Clive Whincup's assertion that organisations are being forced to offshore IT jobs.

Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte
(Credit: ZDNet)

Earlier this month, Whincup took to the stage at the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Young IT conference in Sydney, and claimed that companies like Westpac are not shipping IT jobs overseas for cost cutting, but instead are made to do so because there are not enough skilled IT workers in Australia.

He also said that offshoring is perpetuating the IT skills shortage, because young people are discouraged when they see jobs going overseas.

Speaking with ZDNet last week, Harte said that Whincup's statements were "nonsense," and that he doesn't understand the Westpac CIO's position at all.

"There isn't a shortage of skills — there's certainly specific areas of specialisation where there's more competition, such as certain types of security, around mobile, and capabilities around big data," he said. "They're all in hot demand, and therefore these skills have been 'bid up' ... but that's always been the case, and we don't need to go overseas to look for these people."

Existing IT professionals can be trained in these specialisations rapidly to ameliorate this kind of skills issue, he said.

The ACS regularly warns of an IT skills shortage crisis in Australia, but ZDNet's CIO jury believes that the skills shortage issue has been overblown.

Harte said that Whincup is merely trying to justify Westpac's own offshoring activities.

At yesterday's Commonwealth Bank annual general meeting, the bank's CEO Ian Narev renewed its commitment to keep jobs in Australia.

"We've said we will not offshore our processes and remain committed to it," he said at the meeting.

Young people aren't discouraged from entering the IT workforce due to offshoring, according to Harte.

"They don't know anything about it," he said. "I don't think there's a skills shortage caused by people not going to [study IT] because they think 'I'm not going in there because my job will get outsourced' — that just doesn't make sense."

What is more important, in Harte's view, is making a career in IT sound more exciting and fun to young people. Telling high school students that they can be a systems administrator or a database manager wouldn't exactly fill them with excitement, he said.

"How about working for Facebook, Google, or Amazon? They're cool places to work," Harte said. "If you're thinking about major life choices and vocation at that age, you have to get some guidance from the market.

"I think if you sold an IT job, that's not much fun, but if you sold a dream around being part of an exciting industry, such as in healthcare, social media, and entertainment arts, they can have an exciting career with IT being a big component of that."

Topics: Banking, Outsourcing, Australia

Spandas Lui

About Spandas Lui

Spandas forayed into tech journalism in 2009 as a fresh university graduate spurring her passion for all things tech. Based in Australia, Spandas covers enterprise and business IT.

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10 comments
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  • Wow

    Would hate to be a systems administrator or a database manager at CBA right now!
    thefez101
    • skills != manpower

      There is huge misconceptions re "skill". It's not about having the right graduates in place to do stuff. That's a great start. What industry, particular the banking sector is missing are those IT staff with the skills and balls to innovate. This is the missing piece in the "skills" part.
      Bosco Tan
  • Using 457 visa system to underbid competition

    It's a shame against the Gillard Government that the 457 visa system has become a sham and is being used to underbid existing companies, not just local staff, for tenders in Banking and Telecommunications (Telstra).
    beau parisi
  • More interesting for what was not said rather than what was

    applaud him for being honest, but interesting to see what he did not say (though I'm guessing this is just an extract of what was actually said)

    He says that companies are not being forced to offshore (lack of skills) but doing it through cost cutting choice... though he does not state CBA resourcing strategy is aligned to this or not.

    He agrees that it is creating a skills shortage but does not go on to explain if they are doing anything to fix that, or just stating the current situation.

    bank's CEO Ian Narev renewed its commitment to keep jobs in Australia. "We've said we will not offshore our processes and remain committed to it," he said at the meeting.
    haha, a very clever choice of words. Process will stay here, but development, testing, maintanence will go (has gone).
    fast_freddy
  • Totally Agree

    .
    Oh Dear
  • Absolute rubbish from Michael Harte - ZDNet, you should be ashamed!

    Seriously ZDNet? Try googling once in a while to validate what corporate executives are currently spouting. This article, for example:

    http://afr.com/p/technology/outsourcing_regulator_readies_for_nOEQAB7bQfbpopdkczo6hI

    ...describes an investigation currently being undertaken by APRA and contains the following:

    "Commonwealth Bank of Australia technology chief Michael Harte said CBA had been involved in outsourcing and offshoring activities for more than 14 years, and that APRA’s wish to monitor the situation on the ground should be applauded."
    SergioRuggiero
  • Do your research first, Harte.

    I work a lot with universities and recruiters and have been tracking this issue for some time. Enrollments in IT-related degrees in Australia has halved in the last decade - this isn't the opinion of a few individuals, but an actual, evidence-based fact. If the pipeline isn't there, then logic would state that there is a threat of a domestic skills shortage.

    If Harte actually spent some time researching this and listening to what others in the industry have been saying recently, he'd find they are warning of a FUTURE IT skills shortage in Australia; not that there is one right now.

    It's disappointing for a top Australian IT executive to be so uneducated about this very real issue, and even worse for the industry that he's going public with his misinformed views.
    electric_avenue
    • Uneducated I don't think So

      electric_avenue I believe Michael is having a dig about the Westpac CIO's sacking of 500 skilled staff and then using "lack of skills" in Australia as a reason. FYI: There were no shortage of skills at Westpac. However due to Bob MckInnon (& his puppet Clive) there are now many people unemployed.
      irvin101
  • Re: Do your research first, Harte

    Hi electric_avenue, perhaps we should get international students to enroll in Australian Universities?

    Uh oh, International Student enrollments are dropping as well (source: https://aei.gov.au/research/International-Student-Data/Pages/InternationalStudentData2011.aspx)

    Hmmm. who can we blame about this? It's certainly not the fault of the Universities.

    Your problem is now that the 457 visa system is changed, students don't need to purchase a degree to obtain PR status. They can transfer from 457 to PR status by Employer sponsorship, after a number of years of serfdom, assuming Employers honour their unwritten agreements.

    So, skilled migration - the same hammer used to fix the University System - is now breaking it, and no one is listening to the boy who cried wolf anymore.
    beau parisi
  • CommBank CIO, Harte, living in CIO Fantasy Land...

    The policy of the Commonwealth Bank Australia is to complete projects regardless of staff shortages.
    These claims of Harte are in fact that, “CLAIMS”.
    Having worked for the Commonwealth Bank in Australia as an IT consultant, I can say most staff is outsourced. They hire overseas contractors as managers who then go onto to hire "WORKER ANTS" for projects. It’s a strange environment to work in.
    I have no objection to overseas contract employment, I have contracted many times overseas myself, but Harte, admit it, don't try to be ashamed that there must be either a skills shortage or the local skills are not up to scratch.
    I have worked for the Commonwealth Bank as a software developer and I recall out of 100+ staff on my floor, I and possibly 4 other people were actually local produce.
    All the Managers and Business Analysts were overseas contractors. Most of the developers were also overseas contractors apart from me and like I said 4 others. This was typical on most floors.
    Some overseas contractors were coming into to work straight off the plane, changing and washing themselves in the staff toilets.
    So I think the CommBank CIO is also living in fantasy land, like most of these out of touch fat cats who just look at figures all day.
    martyhill