ACS: Slow and steady wins the race

commentary Solid policy comes with considerable patience, says federal opposition leader Mark Latham.Quizzed on a news analysis TV program on Monday, Latham refused to divulge Labor's key economic policies ahead of federal elections -- the preferred date still anyone's guess.

commentary Solid policy comes with considerable patience, says federal opposition leader Mark Latham.

Quizzed on a news analysis TV program on Monday, Latham refused to divulge Labor's key economic policies ahead of federal elections -- the preferred date still anyone's guess. His cards are held close to his chest, until and unless the timing is right.

Edward Mandla, president of the Australian Computer Society, is also a man of patience. He doesn't mind playing the waiting game for fruitful returns.

Last year, the ACS engaged management consulting firm Whitehorse to study the impact of offshoring on the local IT industry. The report was delivered on time in December but Mandla chose to "fine-tune" the text. He also postponed the announcement so as to have an "impact on Canberra when federal parliament sits in June."

Finally, at the end of May, the results saw the light of day but strangely enough, a large portion on IT migration -- foreign nationals permitted to work in Australia -- was withheld.

There was simply too much to digest, Mandla recalled.

"When I first got the report on outsourcing, it was 60 pages. I said it was too long for me, for the media and for politicians. I wanted it condensed but was told there were another 60 pages coming," he told ZDNet Australia&nbsp in a recent interview.

Mandla was caught unawares. He said he was surprised that migration was even part of the research. "Offshoring and IT migration are two separate issues," he maintained. The study was assigned by his predecessor Richard Hogg. Perhaps there was some form of miscommunication during the handover process.

Mandla sympathises with many outplaced IT workers, strongly believing that IT migration is an extremely important issue -- especially the employer-sponsored 457 visa. It's inconceivable and unacceptable that foreign workers are employed at a time when IT jobs are scarce.

The intended purpose of a 457 visa is mainly for company transfers but tech workers and unions have expressed concern that it was being exploited by certain quarters.

According to the ACS, the 457 visa program added an estimated 4,800 to labour supply of ICT professionals in 2003. Over half were classified in mainstream occupations that don't suggest high skill levels and 30 percent were programmers, a skill set already heavily over supplied in Australia. A further 25 percent were simply classified as computer professionals, the ACS said. Over 80 percent of visa holders were aged under 35, including 55 percent under the age of 30.

These statistics are of grave concern and hopefully, the Whitehorse report will dispel any myth of a skills-shortage.

"It would be a terrible disservice if 457 visa holders robbed local jobs," Mandla said.

Some of the key questions contained in the migration report are:

  • Should 457 visa applicants be skills tested?
  • Should the Immigration Department publish 457 visa-holder salaries?
  • Should the government move from vocational to competent English when assessing 457 visa applications?

    For now, emphasis will be put on developing policies to address the migration issue. As such policies revolve around council meetings, it will be discussed in August when the board members meet next.

    Mandla was unperturbed by the turnaround time, saying he'd rather wait than "come out with half-baked ideas". I think this is a wise move -- that's if Prime Minister John Howard doesn't call for an August election.