JobWatch: Graduate scramble defies flat market

Demand remains strong for software development and engineering skills, with many employers focusing on recent graduates to shore up their productivity through tough times.

With clouds gathering and bursting into pails of rain in global financial markets, overall IT jobs growth is slowing as employers opt for a more conservative approach to hiring. However, demand remains strong for software development and engineering skills, with many employers focusing on recent graduates to shore up their productivity through tough times.

According to the monthly Olivier job index which tracks demand in different sectors of the economy according to the number of job advertised via the internet, February's drop in job ads was arrested through March as the market flattened, but failed to register growth.

However, Patrick March, national practice leader for IT&T at recruitment company Hudson says the slowdown is barely registering in the IT sector.

"What we've seen is the volumes in the market stabilising, as people seek alternative methods to recruit staff," March suggests. "We're seeing a lot of emphasis on graduate recruitment programs, as companies try to get in early and develop some homegrown skills."

According to the latest Olivier report into online job ads, the falls in overall job ad figures, and the IT&T market flattened out through March, off the back of a sharp fall in February.

At this stage however, report author Bob Olivier suggests it is too early to call a new market trend, pointing out the current slowdown comes of the back of growth in demand for IT staff throughout 2007.

"The skills shortage isn't going away, what we're seeing is that organisations are taking their foot off the accelerator in terms of hiring, because they are not sure how they will be affected by what is happening around the world," Olivier says. "We might see organisations veering away from taking on permanent staff, and sticking to contractors, but there are still plenty of projects to be completed and plenty of work out there."

This is especially true for recent IT graduates, or university graduates from other sectors who are willing to move into IT roles.

Australian employers are currently spending in excess of $50 million in an attempt to fill graduate IT roles, with over $250,000 currently offered through a series of corporate scholarships administered by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Foundation.

However, the preference is clearly for graduates with work experience and good communication skills, both of which need to be more actively fostered at the university level according to John Ridge, executive director for the ACS Foundation.

"What we are seeing is graduate demand as strong as ever although there is a clear preference for students who have gained some form of industry experience while completing their degree," offered Ridge. "The people who really struggle when it comes to getting work are those who have completed a more senior degree, but have no industry experience."

"Periods of relevant industry experience should be mandatory, sandwiched between academic study, because it will make the graduates far more employable when they complete their degrees," Ridge said. "Otherwise it's up to the individual students to take a break from study and go out into the workforce to get that experience; although it would slow down their studies, ultimately it will accelerate their careers."