Do Australian ICT workers matter?

commentary Over the last few years, a barrage of issues such as temporary skilled migration visas, offshoring and ICT graduate numbers has taken a toll on the information technology and communications industry.

Vincent Teubler, VTR Consulting
commentary Over the last few years, a barrage of issues such as temporary skilled migration visas, offshoring and ICT graduate numbers has taken a toll on the information technology and communications industry.

In the midst of such tumultuous times, what is most surprising, however, is the total lack of support for local technology workers from the government (both state and federal), and "industry" associations such as the AIIA (Australian Information Industry Association), ITCRA (Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association) and ACS (Australian Computer Society).

Indeed the support for these workers seems to have come from some of the least expected quarters; a few brave ICT journalists, (who seem very good at identifying the self-serving propaganda dished out by ITCRA), a couple of university researchers who have actively argued in support of these workers (backed by research!), a few lonely recruitment agents (myself included) and of all things, some from the ranks of the public service (who also seem to be good at brushing aside self-serving propaganda).

Here's what I mean by no support.

Offshoring. Every time a major company slashes jobs in favour of outsourcing to foreign lands, not much noise is heard from such "industry" associations. In fact, I recall some statements to the effect of it being good for the profits of these organisations and Australian workers had nothing (really) to worry about.

In the US, technology workers became so annoyed with the level of offshoring, the government actually took heed. Companies were encouraged to buy American-made goods and a few firms even started using a 'we DON'T offshore' slogan. I seem to recall our own federal government talking up the virtues and benefits of offshoring ... that includes telco behemoth Telstra.

"The interesting question is why the immigration department invites ITCRA on these issues without seeking counterbalancing views. ITCRA is just a pack of sales people."
-- Ian, Canberra
Outsourcing. The simple reality is that offshoring is a bit of a hot potato ... -IT department we command you not to offshore. However, if you happen to outsource to the same offshoring company (that recently set up an office in Australia and will need to staff it with mostly foreign nationals because the locals don't come cheap), we'll keep an open mind."

Some government officials have even had the audacity to suggest: "Look, we have such a great ICT framework that foreign companies are choosing to set up here en masse." Everyone's happy except the jobless IT worker.

Visas galore. At a recent meeting with business leaders and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone on the 2005-2006 Migration Program, representatives from ITCRA -- including two contractor management companies which stand to benefit from an increase in foreign workers -- argued that there should be significant relaxation of temporary skilled visa entry requirements.

ITCRA is seeking a 10 percent increase in the number of skilled migrants to about 90,000 a year. The professions in dire shortage are identified as nursing, medical science, accounting, finance, teaching and engineering. Apparently, ICT is also in shortage, ITCRA says but based on my experience in the industry, this is certainly not the case. It is getting more and more difficult for locals to compete against foreign professionals because the barriers, within Australia, keep getting higher and higher.

It's very clear that Australian ICT workers will continue to be disappointed and if we don't care for ourselves, who will? Claims of a skills crisis must be doused as soon as possible before it spreads throughout the corridors of power. There is no shortage and we need to be more vocal in getting this message across.

So who's with me?

Vincent Teubler is managing director and owner of VTR Consulting, an ICT recruitment firm based in Melbourne. Teubler is also director of Payworks, an alternative to contractor management Services. Both companies have a policy of recruiting candidates with Australian citizenship or permanent residency.


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