It's a debate that has raged for years: is there a tech skills shortage in Australia? According to the responses from ZDNet Australia's CIO jury, the answer is no.
Despite encouraging growth figures for Australia released on 6 June, other research released last month by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations showed that the number of online ICT jobs advertised in April was down 2 per cent from the month before, and down 22 per cent from a year before.
And yet, even given these numbers, and the uncertainty in the global financial markets, there are still those in the industry who are bemoaning a lack of potential IT hires. The March quarter Clarius index (PDF) released last week classed ICT professionals as being the third-most difficult set of professionals to hire, after corporate service managers and engineering professionals.
Westpac CIO Clive Whincup said last month that he doesn't think the bank will ever be able to hire the number of workers that it requires, making it lean heavily on outsourcing. His comments followed similar words in 2011 from his counterpart at ANZ, Ann Weatherston, who said that the skills shortage and a lack of IT graduates are accelerating the bank's move to offshore its IT workforce.
This contradiction has many in the industry wondering whether a skills shortage truly exists, or whether companies are simply trying to make sure that there are enough workers available to keep wages down.
ZDNet Australia focused its first CIO jury question on this conundrum.
The question asked was:
In your experience, is there a tech skills shortage in Australia?
Of the first 12 who answered, seven said no.
Hume Rural Health Alliance operations manager Chris Reeve noted that the only issues he has had in attracting candidates is due to location. (Most of the alliance's workers are based in Shepparton.)
"I don't believe there to be a technical skills shortage in the IT arena. Being in regional Victoria, we do find it challenging at times to recruit technical positions to our area, but it is generally because of the lack of amenities for those who are used to a city life," he said. "I do believe we will see a slight shift in this, though, as people get fed up with city lifestyle and look for alternatives."
De Bortoli CIO Bill Robertson, who also heads up a regional operation, found that the company's location makes it difficult to find prospective hires, so much so that he answered "yes" to our question.
"Our solutions involved hiring and training talented locals and ex-locals, and the selective use of cadetships and 457 visas," he said.
The other CIOs who agree that there's a skills shortage also think that there isn't so much a shortage in numbers, but rather a shortage in particular capabilities. This is especially so in terms of employees that can align themselves with the business.
"The shortages are in the higher end of the IT labour market ... experienced project management (not someone who's just finished a PRINCE2 course)," explained David O'Hagan, the CIO of the corporate services division of Queensland's Department of Education and Training. He also singled out business analysts, software developers and database administrators as other roles that are in demand.
"LAN, desktop and IT call-centre staff are available, but the churn rate is high at the moment."
Suncorp Life CIO Fiona Floyd agrees.
"Well-rounded Agile skills, especially at project-manager level, are difficult to source. Aligned to this, individuals with test-driven development skills are thin on the ground, as are people who are willing to develop these skills," she said.
Nonetheless, the majority has spoken: there is no tech skills shortage. Those who answered "no" didn't provide much in the way of an explanation for their choice, and why should they? There's no problem. Perhaps that's the reason behind this ongoing debate over the existence of a skills shortage: those having trouble filling positions are the most vocal, while we hear very little from those for whom things are going smoothly.
Then again, when Peoplebank CEO Peter Acheson spoke with ZDNet Australia about the decline in job vacancies, he noted that certain skills would become tight again very quickly once the market picks up. So the industry might simply be experiencing the calm before the storm.
Thank you to all of our ZDNet Australia jury participants. This question's CIO jury comprised:
- Paul Berryman — CIO, BUPA Aged Care
- David Beveridge — acting CIO of multiple SMBs
- Xavier Desdoigts — director of technical operations, Animal Logic
- Fiona Floyd — CIO, Suncorp Life
- David Houslip — CIO, Cancer Council Queensland
- Daniel Johnson — head of information systems, Sydney Opera House
- Aaron Lewis — IT manager, Baxter Healthcare
- Royce Michael Lee — IT director, BVN Architecture
- Brendan McHugh — former CIO, Rebel Group
- David O'Hagan — CIO, Queensland Department of Education and Training corporate services division
- Chris Reeve — operations manager, Hume Rural Health Alliance
- Bill Robertson — CIO, De Bortoli