ZDNet CIO jury: skills shortage overblown

ZDNet CIO jury: skills shortage overblown

Summary: What skills shortage? Australian CIOs weigh in on the ease or difficulty of finding the right ICT professionals.

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TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment
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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.

(Credit: CBSi)

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

If you would like to be part of our CIO jury, contact us at ciojury@cbsinteractive.com. More details can also be found here.

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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6 comments
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  • This is not the truth. I have been looking for an IT contracting role for at least 3 months an I can't get one.
    michaelsaunders
    • what are your skills? fortran perhaps.
      dunbuyinsony
  • No work in Australia unless I want to work for an O/S firm getting 1/5 of what should be paid, and what the major's are paying contractors here in AU.

    The conversation goes like this :-
    "Sorry we can afford you to spend time on that ."
    "Why", I ask ?
    Answer : "you are costing us $280 per hour "
    Not the reply : "Just as well as they pay me $35 an hour" isnt it.

    10 years ago the majors cried "not enough people" - so they imported visa'd workers and slaved them at $35-40k and charged out $200K . And thus the workers stayed on here and created their own competing (linked) companies back to their own country.

    Remove the ability of any IT company to tender for any contract - if they do not have sufficient permanent Australian staff and you might see the real picture of the wasteland of Australian IT.
    Maybe then some of the WA truck driving IT grads might come back to IT !
    Hideous62
    • There's definitely less jobs in the IT sector. Many processes are automated so 1 person now replaces 7 people. If you can't get the job at the rate you want have you thought about perhaps the market has changed and there are too many people with the same skill set willing to accept less money? If the train you're on is heading for a cliff, why don't you quickly change trains and leave the others behind? One of the biggest topics in the IT scene today is around improving the energy efficiency of data centres. There is a website called 'My Energy University' which offer 150+ free online training courses dedicated to energy efficiency & data centres. This combined with some additional formal training could make you very desired and employable at the rate you demand! Here is a link to the site: http://www.schneider-electric.com.au/sites/australia/en/company/data-center-free-online-training-courses.page
      Good Luck!
      anonymous
  • Except in some specialist areas, any claim of a shortage of IT skills is really about money. Three years ago Telstra terminated contracts with a number of local IT outsource companies (eg IBM GSA, Nokia Siemens Networks, etc) and replaced them with foreign suppliers. This put hundreds of skilled IT workers out of work. They then immediately lobbied the govt to bring in more overseas workers (on behalf of their foreign suppliers) because of a 'skill shortage'. The banks have done similarly.
    Many of those workers, skilled in those companies IT systems, are still out of the industry.
    pussykins
    • Well said pussykins, I totally agree.
      Here in Adelaide I personally know lots of IT professionals either under-employed or working in other fields.
      So lets be blunt - there is NO IT skills shortage, but there is a lack of willingness of companies to pay reasonable rates, offer incentives for remote locations, and do ANY re-training of people with slightly out of date skills.
      mcquade-3306a