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Outsourcers, network rollouts drive ICT skills demand

Increased business outsourcing activity and rollouts of third-generation mobile and Voice over IP networks are driving heightened demand for ICT skills, according to one of the nation's top recruiters. "A lot of the big services and outsourcing businesses are suddenly winning contracts again," sparking demand for staff to service the deals, Hudson's IT and telecommunications recruitment head, Alison Maidment, said last week.

Increased business outsourcing activity and rollouts of third-generation mobile and Voice over IP networks are driving heightened demand for ICT skills, according to one of the nation's top recruiters.

"A lot of the big services and outsourcing businesses are suddenly winning contracts again," sparking demand for staff to service the deals, Hudson's IT and telecommunications recruitment head, Alison Maidment, said last week.

Companies in that sector were asking Hudson for batches of 20-50 specialised workers at a time, Maidment said at the launch of the company's quarterly employment outlook report. In the telco sector, Maidment reckons new technology rollouts are the driver.

"Employer sentiment in the telco sector is high, as 3G networks across Australia are completed or close to completion," she said, "The telcos are very much telling us that they're still in growth mode. However, it's likely that things will settle coming up to Christmas."

Maidment singled out early 3G entrant Hutchison for praise over the way it had beefed up the skills portfolio of its existing staff to service their new-generation offerings.

"Hutchison is where the majority of opportunity has been over the last 12-18 months," she said of the 3G market space. "But they've been very smart in the way that they've actually re-engineered their business and upskilled their 2G guys into the 3G arena. They've been very clever about that."

Maidment acknowledged Hudson did not recruit for Optus -- which is about to launch its national 3G network -- and she was unwilling to comment beyond the company's research findings on hiring at other telecommunications companies.

Hudson found 48.7 percent of telecommunications companies which participated in the survey planned to increase their headcount over the next three months, while only 6.2 percent expected to lose staff.

The net result -- a 42.5 percent "positive" in telecommunications employment -- was 3.8 percentage points higher than the previously quarterly survey, but marginally lower than the result for the same period last year.

Maidment said enterprise software skills were also heavily in demand.

"There are a lot of very skilled and experienced SAP consultants out there on a contract and earning a small fortune," she said. "If I could start breeding SAP consultants, I would do so.

"A lot of our clients are beginning to actively grow their permanent SAP capability".

Expertise with Siebel's customer relationship management software is also needed, with one example being the Australian Taxation Office's well-known difficulty in luring skilled people to fill desks at its Siebel development centre in Melbourne.

Other areas of demand included professionals skilled in Microsoft offerings, with Maidment adding there was more need for programmers specialising in the vendor's C# language than for Java experts.

The industry is struggling to meet demand for network engineers with Cisco qualifications, according to the executive. Individuals with the vendor's Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) qualification are most-needed.

Can sell, will program
Maidment said some of the most valuable employees to the market were those whose multifaceted skillset reflected the industry shift to a service rather than a product market focus.

"A lot of our clients are shifting from a 'we sell boxes' approach, to a 'we sell a service' approach -- 'We sell a lifestyle', the whole digital living room concept," she said.

"Suddenly the technologist needs to be the customer service officer as well. They need, not just technical nous, but the ability to service the customer and the ability to sell the capability at the same time."

She said the lack of such converged skillsets was forcing companies to take relatively technologically-savvy employees with, for example, customer service skills, and then train them up with formal technical qualifications.

"The smart businesses are the ones who are investing time and money in upskilling their people," she said.

Hudson generally has around 600 ICT positions open, according to Maidment, split evenly between contract and permanent work.