Australian government CIO Ann Steward and Centrelink CIO John Wadeson are set to mentor their peers at smaller agencies in a continuation of a program to help combat the shortage of "soft skills" in IT.
Two of the most senior IT executives in government, Steward and Wadeson already mentor select government IT employees as part of a 16 person pilot that fosters developing talent.
In the latest development in the mentoring program, Steward and Wadeson, as well as other CIOs of large federal agencies, will offer their mentoring services to peers at eight to 10 smaller agencies to aid soft skills development. Soft skills are generally business related in areas such as project and contract management.
Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) division manager Patrick Callioni said the mentoring of CIOs at smaller agencies would offer advice that wasn't always readily available.
"In large agencies, you've always got colleagues you can talk to," he said.
"We're also creating the potential for these CIOs to climb the ladder to larger agencies."
The CIO peer mentoring program was being championed by the CIOs of smaller agencies who met regularly to discuss such matters, according to Callioni. Participants have not been established.
The mentoring program is just one of the tactics being used to fight the wider IT skills shortage. The government is also forming closer ties with schools and universities, and is using a more integrated approach across agencies to marketing government careers.
"It's a problem that is not going to go away easily," Callioni said of the skills shortage.
"In some areas it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. The problem has taken a long time to develop, and it will take a long time to fix."
Finding people with technical skills in specific technologies was not as hard as finding those with soft skills, according to Callioni, as extra technical capability could usually be found externally.
"In some respects it's easier [to find technical skills] because you can bring people in from outside," he said, and cited DIAC's recent hire of CSC to provide in-demand Siebel skills.
"But it's not easy to bring in change managers because they're not familiar with the organisation. You can't bring them in from India because they don't know the culture.
Technical skills were still a problem, said Callioni, but were more of a "bottleneck" that could be easily fixed.
Soft skills were more serious.
"In the longer term if we're not able to produce a number of project managers, we're going to have a problem.
"You need people who understand the culture and are in for the long haul. You need to grow these people yourselves."
Extending the mentoring program would not double the workload of already-participating CIOs like Steward and Wadeson, said Callioni, as there would be a transition phase where they moved to mentor CIOs of smaller agencies.
However the government was hopeful both mentoring programs could run simultaneously with different participants, according to Callioni.
He expected the mentoring programs to run for a number of years.
The government is also running a mentoring program targeted specifically at female IT workers and women in IT executive mentoring, with 20 pairs of participants.
Callioni will be speaking on IT skills at next month's Cebit 2007 conference in Sydney.